Review: These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Title: These Days Are Ours
Author: Michelle Haimoff
Pages: 275
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette Books)
Pub. Date: February 28, 2012

I didn't hear about this book until nomadreader raved about it. I have to say I'm surprised at the little publicity it's received, especially with a cover blurb from Jonathan Tropper, "Smart, witty, honest, and never anything less than utterly engaging." I will say that These Days Are Ours was and wasn't what I was expecting which I'll explain; but overall it was a quick and fantastic read that was iconic in its representation of modern day high society New York as well as in its depiction of what I'll refer to as the "quarter life crisis". It is essentially the story of Hailey and her friends after they graduate from college and try to figure out what to do next, set in NYC right after 9/11.

Despite the humorous authenticity of Hailey's (main character's) thought processes in the beginning as she tried to maneuver her way into the life of her crush, I did not expect the initial chick-flick/rom-com feel that I noticed. I also had expected that I'd immediately relate to the characters better. I mean, I knew I wouldn't relate to the whole "Fifth Avenue" lifestyle in general but didn't realize how far that lifestyle permeated; for instance, I have always worked, full time, before, during, and after college and felt that the lifestyles of the characters were too irresponsible, cavalier. I've always had an extreme streak of independence - never moved back in with mom and dad, have never bemoaned the woes of being an adult, etc. that separated my complete understanding of life from theirs.

But what did meet my expectations was that I was able to relate to the characters in a broader, more abstract way, as in schooling is finally over so what now?... as in entering and partaking in the reality of "the real world" that in your twenties you start to see from a new perspective such as learning that your parents are human and don't know everything. I thought this quote from one of the characters describing their work represented this well:

"And another thing that takes some getting used to is how seriously everyone takes this stuff. Like, the biggest account you could be on at BBDO, the account you would be on if you were rocking it, is Pepsi. And if you're somehow on Pepsi, the highlight of your life would be some new soda they were launching with even fewer calories than the old soda. And I'm sorry, but it's just hard to pretend to care that much about a lower-calorie soda when you've just been in college learning actual things." (p.155)

Writing these characters against the backdrop of 9/11 New York City adds to the whole "quarter life crisis" and the characters' startling realizations about what life does and will entail for them. It's a jolt into reality that I also experienced while in college. It's not what this book is about but it does have a part in teaching the characters about life and also about how their interpretations of it differ. The following is a quote from Hailey after she sees the debris at Ground Zero:

" Ground Zero wasn't the right name for this. Ground Zero sounded like a blank canvas. For now it should be called 'The Disaster Zone' or something. Ground Zero could be later, when the area was nothing but a desert in the middle of the skyscrapers. Emptiness. Dust to dust. Ground Zero could honor a time before accountants and stock market and buildings that loomed so large it felt like you were drowning." (p. 78)

After the book picked up, that "chick-flick" feel I mentioned earlier made way for a much more insightful and intuitive read.

These Days Are Ours is about life in your twenties, looking forward, starting careers, friendships, relationships, and just taking it all in. It's full of realistic dialogue, humor, sadness, and reality (told in part through the NYC nightlife). I read this in one day, almost in one sitting.

Rating: 4 out of 5

We need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver
Pages: 432
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: April 15, 2003 (first edition)

You can only say so many times that a book is on your MUST read list or that you reallly want to read a book before you have to actually pick it up and do it. So I finally am in the know both about this book as well as the style and talent of the author herself. Although I was utterly depressed by the end (which didn't really happen to me until about the last 50 pages), I'm glad I read this because it was so amazing in its content, its writing, its characters and psychology. It's the kind of book I'm glad to say I have read. And I'm really curious about the author's other work as well... are all her books like this?

We know from the beginning that Kevin, son of the narrator, Eva, has perpetrated a mass murder at his high school. In letters that Eva writes to her husband, Franklin, she recaptures their lives from the beginning when she first made the decision to have a child despite never having quite felt maternal desires. She then chronicles their relationships with their son as well as the various misgivings she had about him. Whereas Eva never felt truly bonded to him, Franklin passion for this child was overkill.

At first, this novel's epistolary format was strange to me only because having Eva essentially narrate their lives back to her husband didn't make sense to me. Eventually I got used to it and also decided if nothing else it must have been therapeutic for her so that it made more sense in my head. One of the points of this book was to invoke thoughts about the nature vs nurture debate. While I suppose it did that, I actually thought that Kevin was so extreme from the beginning that this book truly fought for the side of nature. Or if it was making a fight for nurture, it wasn't so much Eva but Franklin's pure ignorance that I think influenced anything. I've read of other readers severely disliking Eva, but for the most part I liked her.

Despite the serious and depressing nature of the book, I was enthralled... by the psychology of if all as well as by Lionel's writing style which was not just astute but so intelligently crafted. I felt my brain growing smarter just by reading her book, haha. (I'll admit there were times in the beginning when it felt clunky with what I thought were unnecessary high brow adverbs and adjectives. But I must have gotten used to it).

But then the last 50 pages or so left me so bereft -- shockingly upset considering I knew more or less where it was going. I felt evil leaking off the pages and I wondered what it must have been like to even write this book. Was it as horrifying as it was to read? Then the very ending, the last page or so, was exactly as I figured it would be. This is definitely a book I will highly recommend to those who think they can stomach the atrocities within its pages.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Mini-Reviews: Life of Pi, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, and Heart-Shaped Box

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Pages: 319
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Mariner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Pub. Date: June 28, 2002 (hardcover); April 21, 2003 (paperback)

This is one of those books that has been on my list forever. It's one of those books that I felt, and other readers have agreed, is one of those books that we should read. Though it was just written in 2002, it has quickly become a modern classic. And with the movie version recently released, and my husband recently reading it, I decided to dig in too. Basically, Pi grows up in India with his parents who own a zoo. The first part of the book is about him exploring other religions. But then they're on a boat that sinks and he ends up in a lifeboat with a tiger, and he has to strategically live in the middle of the ocean without being attacked by a tiger. This book really wasn't for me. I stayed interested enough to keep moving to the next chapter, but I did feel that the time on the lifeboat was sort of drawn out. And there was some graphic detail given regarding some of the animals that I really did not like. Part of what drew me to this book was that I had heard it had this super powerful message in the end; for me it was anticlimactic but maybe because I had built it up so much. I'm glad to say I read this and I felt it was okay, but that's about it.

Title: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
Author: Heidi W. Durrow
Pages: 264
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books (Workman Publishing)
Pub. Date: February 16, 2010

I was drawn to this because of the social issues it was supposed to present about race and class. The main character, Rachel, is biracial. Though it hasn't ever been a significant issue for her, it becomes one after she goes to live with her grandmother subsequent to the death of her mother and siblings when they fall off the top of a building. This book was also the winner of the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Overall, I thought this one was okay. It was narrated from several different points of view. Near the beginning it had a Tayari Jones-esque which is, of course, a great thing, though I didn't feel it maintained this all the way through. I guess I just felt like I wasn't sure exactly what the point was. I think I was expecting a bigger message again. I think I thought I'd relate more. Again, I'm glad I read this one but it didn't blow me away.

Title: Heart-Shaped Box
Author: Joe Hill
Pages: 379
Genre: Horror
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: February 13, 2007

My husband chose this as our joint read for Halloween this past year. I was against it at first because ghosts and the lot scare me more than other scary things. But eventually I gave in and then ended up having the opposite reaction in that this book hardly scared me at all. I mentioned it in an earlier post, but I think that with this type of book there is a degree of cheesiness to it that takes away from the scariness. Basically, the premise of this is that an old rock star buys a dead man's suit to add to his collection of macabre paraphernalia, only to learn that the ghost of the previous owner comes with the suit and this ghost is out to get him. It was okay. I've read praise for Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) saying his work is better than his father's -- I'm not convinced yet. However, I enjoyed this as a Halloween read with the hubby but wouldn't have regretted not reading it otherwise.

Review: Dwarf by Tiffanie DiDonato with Rennie Dyball

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Title: Dwarf
Subtitle: How One Woman Fought for a Body--And a Life--She Was Never Supposed to Have
Author: Tiffanie DiDonato with Rennie Dyball
Pages: 272
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Pub. Date: November 27, 2012

I first saw this book while perusing the local Barnes & Noble and was instantly drawn to it. There's often a lot of inspiration to be found in learning about how someone has overcome struggles in their lives. I didn't realize it, but the author was on Good Morning America in 2008 discussing her experiences. (Not sure how I missed it since I have been a GMA aficionado for years). But anyway, here is the video if you're interested.

What is discussed in the video is the controversial bone lengthening procedures Tiffanie went through multiple times to add inches to her height. Her experiences with those surgeries were the meat of her memoir as she discusses why she chose that route, others' reactions, and how she endured it despite experiencing excruciating pain. This woman is brave, courageous, and independent -- that is for sure! While I completely relate to the desire for as much independence as possible, I could never have made the decisions she did medically because I would have been too terrified!

Now, her decisions also come with a high degree of skepticism and controversy because of a belief that she has rejected her dwarfism and sent the message that even very risky surgery is worth changing who she was born as. I can certainly understand this position as well, because the surgery comes with the risk of many complications and is not medically necessary, though I don't fault Tiffanie in her decision making either. I did find this memoir interesting, and I did find it inspirational, but I could also see where for some it might not be because it was about overcoming through drastic measures rather than learning to accept oneself just as is.

As for the writing itself, I did feel like certain parts seemed a little lengthy. In the first half of the book I also felt a couple messages became repetitive such as Tiffanie's never having realized that she was labeled a dwarf or that there was really anything different about her. I understood after the first couple examples. I also thought it delved in to the cheesy a couple times.

That being said, I also cried or became very teary eyed multiple times while reading this - once in public which I never do. One of the most powerful parts of this memoir were the relationships presented. Tiffanie's parents had starkly different reactions and responses to supporting their daughter. One side of the family completely rejected her, even, while the other supported her wholeheartedly. She talks a lot about a best friend she had throughout her adolescence who meant a lot to her. It was the dynamics of these interactions that I think got to me the most.

Dwarf  was an interesting read about how one person dealt with their struggles, but it also has a lot of controversy surrounding it and will make you question your own beliefs.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you go to and click on videos, you will find a few different clips from when Tiffanie appeared on his show to discuss this issue as well as another person who went through the same procedure and regrets it.