Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Title: Leaving Time
Author: Jodi Picoult
Pages: 398
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine (Random House)
Pub. Date: October 14, 2014

I have read almost all of Jodi Picoult's books but hadn't read any in the past few years. I picked up Leaving Time because it was chosen for book club in June. Plus, with it being about elephants, I thought it sounded really interesting.

Unfortunately, I have to say this was one of my least favorites of her books. Learning about elephants was interesting, but I found it to be a little heavy on the information sometimes and less focused on the story. I have noticed this before with her books in that she shares so much of her research; I think sometimes it's distracting and sometimes it's not, but in this case it sort of was. I also found some of it to be very repetitive. Yes, elephants grieve and have emotions, and, yes, I realize elephant mothers are the best ever and are super bonded to their babies. I felt like I was hearing these things over and over.

The story itself was good in places but weird, too. Basically, a 13-year-old girl (maybe 12?), Jenna, is looking for her mother. Back when she was little, her mother was trampled by an elephant and taken to the hospital where she left and hasn't been heard from since. Jenna manages to get a psychic and private detective to help her search for her mom. I actually didn't care that much for this mystery. I also thought I could see any "twist" that was happening and didn't care for it... Turned out I was wrong... But, I'm of two minds about the ending. On the one hand I was surprised and intrigued, but on the other hand I thought it was sort of... well... I really can't say unless you read it! But it was sort of a cheat in some ways and it wasn't my favorite.

If you love all her books I would go ahead and read this one too, but otherwise I would start with some of her others.

Mini-Reviews #4

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I decided to go back and do a bunch of mini reviews for all the books I read but failed to review over the past two years. This will make me feel sort of caught up and refreshed and maybe will help me be motivated to keep up with reviewing what I've read this year! Some of these will be very mini since I can't remember them that well. This is batch #4. 

Title: Bad Feminist
Author: Roxane Gay
Pages: 318
Genre: Non-Fiction; Essays
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: August 5, 2014

I wish I would have reviewed this one right away because I feel like I would have had some more substantial things to say. Basically, I had mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, I think Roxane Gay and I would be great friends and have some great conversations. I agree with her thought processes... generally. Some of the earlier essays had me laughing out loud. I think the funniest one was the one where she participated in the scrabble competition. The dynamics of that and the other people there was hilarious.. I hadn't even realized that was a thing! But when it became more serious, especially on the essays related to race, I found myself a little frustrated. It seemed like there were lots of complaints about things either without any type of solution offered (which I don't always find necessary) or where I didn't quite understand. We all have things we can learn about other people, and being of two ethnicities, I consider myself knowledgeable on this topic to a certain degree. But what I found, for example, was that Gay would complain about movies portraying black people as maids, etc. (which I get), or slaves which she is over seeing movies about, stating there are enough (okay, I sort of get), or prosecutors, etc. and I didn't quite understand why that last bit, in particular, was a bad thing (pardon my ignorance). And she didn't explain. It seemed like that one section went on a rant about every type of movie that has black people in it being a bad representation, but the array of movies was so diverse, in my mind, that I felt confused. Ultimately, I felt that the heavier essays were very heavy while the earlier essays were comedic, so overall it felt unbalanced.

Title: Normally, This Would Be Cause For Concern
Subtitle: Tales of Calamity and Unrelenting Awkwardness
Pages: 281
Genre: Non-fiction; memoir
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: September 9, 2014

Memoir written by Danielle Fishel, Topanga from Boy Meets World, about her life and acting. I would only recommend this book if you were a fan of hers/the show. It was pretty cheesy in content and writing. But, of course, cute if you were a fan of hers. I enjoyed this okay, but I think most people would not, unfortunately. :(

Title: The Rosie Project
Author: Graeme Simsion
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: October 1, 2013

This was another book club read. I would not have picked it up if not for that, even though my husband had previously read and enjoyed it. Turned out I really liked this one! The main character has asperger's (which sometimes I feel I relate a little too much to!) and his antics in trying to find a wife were funny. I would highly recommend this for a lighter read (though it wasn't as light as I thought it would be). Despite that, I do not have a desire to read the sequel which is strange. I guess I like this story just as is. For the book club, our hostess made the meal that the main character makes in the book, and it was delicious!!

Title: Cartwheel
Author: Jennifer Dubois
Pages: 363
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Random House Trade (Penguin Random House)
Pub. Date: September 24, 2013

This book was very highly based off the Amanda Knox story. A girl is studying abroad in Argentina when her roommate is murdered. The girl is charged with the murder. We read the back story about the relationship she had with her roommate and what led up to the murder, as well as her reaction afterwards (doing a cartwheel in the police station, all casual) and her family's response. I honestly don't even remember how this ended (LOL) but I enjoyed reading this. The character drove me batty because she was so immature and annoying, but other than that it was an interesting story, and if I remember correctly we were left with just our own opinions as to whether or not she did murder the roommate. It wasn't so much about the crime but about the character herself.

Atlas Shrugged Read-a-Long

Monday, July 6, 2015

Ti over at Book Chatter is hosting an Atlas Shrugged read-a-long, so I thought I would join and give this one a try. I am notoriously bad at read-a-longs, and this one is a long book. But I've also had it on my list for a while and would like to try and participate. Technically this started on July 1st and I have yet to start this. So I'm already behind! Ack! But we'll see how it goes!

Here is the info from Ti's post:

  • Runs from July 1-Aug 15, 2015
  • Use #AtlasRAL to talk about it on Twitter.
  • I hope to write an update post on my blog after each part (I, II, III) just to see how we are doing.
Suggested Read By Dates:
Part I by July 15 (approx 300 pages)
Part II by July 31 (approx 320 pages)
Part III by August 15 (approx 450 pages)

My goal is to be caught up by July 15th!

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin Publishing Group)
Pub. Date: January 13, 2015

I'm of two thoughts about this book. In The Girl on the Train, Rachel rides the train every day past a group of houses where she often has observed a couple whom she has become invested in. She imagines who they are and their stories. So when she sees something strange one day, and then news about this couple becomes public, she can't quell her curiosity, poking her nose in where she shouldn't, and becomes overly involved. What follows is a thriller as we try to figure out what's really going on and who is telling the truth.

I rated this one 3 out of 5 stars. On the one hand, it was a thriller that kept me hooked and that I essentially finished in a weekend. As other bloggers have said, it is definitely a fun read. I would imagine most people will like it and will get caught up in all the unknowns in the story.

On the other hand, none of the characters were at all likeable and the main character is always drunk so she (and, thus, we) never really know what's going on!  That was annoying. In terms of the literary factors of the mystery, it sort of felt like the whole main character always blacking out thing was sort of a cheat, although I guess that was just part of the story. There were some twists as the story went on. This is NOT the next Gone Girl or even a good comparison. Overall, it was a a fun read but I am surprised at quite the amount of hype it has received.

Mini-mini Reviews #3

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I decided to go back and do a bunch of mini reviews for all the books I read but failed to review over the past two years. This will make me feel sort of caught up and refreshed and maybe will help me be motivated to keep up with reviewing what I've read this year! Some of these will be very mini since I can't remember them that well. This is batch #3.

Title: Jaws
Author: Peter Benchley
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: February 1, 1974
Audio Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Audio Time: 9 hours, 37 minutes
Audio Narrator: Erik Steele

I had this on my list ever since Ti read it a couple (few?) summers ago, so I finally got around to it this past summer. I listened to this on audio. Overall I enjoyed this book, but I did not find it scary, necessarily. It was comical to me how the city was run... the sheriff was in charge of dealing with the shark, etc. Not sure if that is a 1970's thing or just how this fictional (I'm assuming) town was written. Although I enjoyed the story, there was one part that I thought was so completely out of place that it sort of turned me off of this book (in the way that that one scene in Stephen King's It... those who read It probably know what I mean). In this one, two of the characters are sort of flirting with each other and they have this entire exchange where the one asks the other about her sexual fantasies and they go back and forth etc. and the issue I had was not with the content but with the fact that it added nothing, whatsoever, to the story and felt so completely out of place. I couldn't help but think the author was inserting his own fantasy for no reason at all. But otherwise good and I did follow this read up with a re-watch of the movie (which was not as great as I remembered, LOL).

Title: A Game of Thrones
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #1
Author: George R. R. Martin
Pages: 807
Genre: Fantasy; Historical
Publisher: Bantam Books (Random House)
Pub. Date: August 28, 1996

My husband has read this one many times and has read many others in the series. I decided to give it a go before we started watching the show. It was outside my genre but I found it interesting and scandalous and surprisingly easy to read. I have chosen not to read the rest of the series because there is just too much and they're too long and I'd rather just watch the show, but if the show hadn't come out I would have considered more. (This opinion is not typical, but I think this is because it is so far out of my typical genre).

Title: Into the Abyss
Subtitle: An Extraordinary True Story
Author: Carol Shaben
Pages: 287
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Pub. Date: May 21, 2013

I asked for this non-fiction one for Christmas 2013. The story wasn't as crazy interesting as I thought it would be which I feel bad saying because these guys did survive a plane crash and were stranded for hours in the freezing cold before rescue. But that part of the book was fairly short and much of it focused on the lives of all the men. There was a lot I learned about planes and piloting and the dark side of the private airline industry (scary!) And the whole story regarding the prisoner's life was really sad. I found this book to be okay but did think it was a great way for the author to tell her father's story.

Title: Everybody's Got Something
Author: Robin Roberts with Veronica Chambers
Pages: 272
Genre: Non-fiction; Memoir
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Pub. Date: April 22, 2014
Audio Publisher: Hachette Audio
Audio Time: 7 hours, 18 minutes
Audio Narrator: Robin Roberts

I am a huge GMA fan (Good Morning America) and, therefore, also a big fan of Robin Roberts. (I even saw her and the GMA cast in person back in 2010 when we were in NYC. I was part of a small group that watched her interview with Steve Harvey which is funny because I recently was in the audience at his show. But anyway...) Fans of Robin Roberts have followed her journey as she first battled breast cancer and then later myelodysplastic syndrome which was a complication of her treatment from cancer and was also a life threatening illness. I listened to this one on audio, read by Robin herself, and easily got into her story. I do think that people who don't know her would enjoy this book as well, but fans of hers will definitely enjoy this. I always like hearing about the interactions of the GMA staff and how family like they really are, which she talked a lot about. And I was surprised how much she talked about her relationship with her partner as well and a nice glimpse into her life.

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I was excited to see Jurassic World this past weekend, and it turns out everyone else was too! The theater was packed! (I also heard it had the highest opening weekend ever at over $500 million).

Jurassic World takes place 20+ years after the disaster of Jurassic Park. Despite that disaster that took place in the original, things resolved and time had been kind to the park. It had since turned into a super popular theme park. Unfortunately, revenue recently went down so Jurassic World has to come up with a new attraction... they genetically engineer a new dinosaur that's bigger and badder than the rest! But greed becomes problematic, as this new dinosaur causes chaos in the park.

Jurassic World was a super fun movie that I think everyone would love. There were moments during our showing where people clapped and laughed, and at the end there was all out applause. I really enjoyed the performance by Bryce Dallas Howard -- she played an uptight, Type A operations manager at Jurassic World. Her nephews come to visit the park and it's obvious she has not maintained a relationship with them or know anything about them. I guess her role was sort of stereotypical in a way, but she did a good job with it. One of the funny/unrealistic things about the movie was that she ran around in her high heels throughout all the action... LOL. I guess that's not any more unrealistic than live dinosaurs. Chris Pratt is obviously the other big star in the movie. I liked his character. He played sort of a "badass" and did a good job with it, but I don't have much else to say about his character except that I liked the interaction between him and Bryce Dallas Howard.

The action in the movie picked up from the beginning. The visuals were great. The park was huge and gorgeous. And I think the dinosaurs looked realistic. There was also the theme, similar to Jurassic Park, of the dangers of being greedy and making decisions that prioritized that.

Overall there was a lot of action, plenty of funny moments, and was a fun movie for adults and children alike. Would be a great movie to see as a family.

Review (And Movie Comparison): Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Monday, June 15, 2015

Title: Jurassic Park
Author: Michael Crichton
Pages: 448
Genre: Fiction; Science Fiction; Thriller
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: November 28, 1990

I saw this movie when it first came out and I was 10 or 11-years-old. I loved it. But in recent years I had been interested in reading the book. My husband apparently did read te book back then even tough he was only about a year older than me. So, in anticipation of the new movie, Jurassic World, coming out, he and I decided to do our little read-a-long of Jurassic Park.

I'm sure when I saw the movie at 10ish, I didn't understand all the technical aspects of the movie (nor did the movie go into it as in depth as the book). The first half of the book focused on explaining how the concept and creation of Jurassic Park came along. It was fascinating and realistic enough that it made me think that it is something that is totally possible! This first half of the book, despite not really having any dinosaur appearances, had its own tension. The build up to the second half of the book was thrilling in its own right. There was also great use of foreshadowing.

Then the second half had tons of action, as things at the new park start breaking down just like the scientist said it would. Just when I thought it was done, there was more to be had. I really enjoyed this book and can see why it was chosen to become the blockbuster it did.

Jason and I recently re-watched the movie. Neither of us had seen it since the original release. We boy enjoyed it still all these years later. It followed the book pretty well, obviously having to leave some things out though. They also killed off/kept different people than the book, but it all worked!

Jason and I will be heading down to Universal/IOA in the near future for our "water ride day" which includes the Jurassic Park ride! There's new excitement for the ride since we read the book and re-watched the movie.

We also went this weekend and saw Jurassic World.. so stay tuned for my upcoming review of that!

The Sunday Salon: Plans Moving Forward

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I know it's like a broken record, but I really do want to get back into blogging regularly. I was looking at my blog archives and saw that even back in 2013 I only posted 12 times!So it's been quite a while that I've been essentially MIA.

I actually have drafted reviews that I never posted and have lots of others to write. Although I don't read nearly as often as I was used to, it's still one of my favorite activities. And even though it's a relaxing stress reliever, I often can't seem to relax enough to pick up a book in the first place! So that is an effort I'm going to try to work more toward.

Not much is new in my life, sadly. This past December, Jason and I wrapped up our second IVF attempt unsuccessfully. That's the end of our attempts. As it is we will be paying back the loan we took out for the IVFs until summer of 2019!

Since then (well, a few months later) I have taken up the hobby of running, and now I'm obsessed! I even started a running blog -- if you're interested it's at It's so weird starting out with that blog because the running blog community is huge and well established (like the book blogging community) and I'm trying to figure out how to join in and take part -- something I did with this blog several years ago now so I don't remember. It's like being the new girl at school, haha!

So tentative plans for now are to post a review at least once a week (starting tomorrow). At some point I also need to start replacing pictures on this blog... a while ago I deleted my google+ account and accidentally deleted all images associated with my google account, i.e., this blog! So I've slowly had to go back and add the images again, but I have many more to do.

Review: The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Friday, March 6, 2015

Title: The Aviator's Wife
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Pages: 401 (including author's note)
Genre: Fiction, historical
Publisher: Bantam Dell (Random House)
Pub. Date: January 15, 2013

In the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, acclaimed novelist Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Overall I enjoyed this book about the life of Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, well enough. But if it hadn't been for this being a book club pick, I probably wouldn't have read past the first 50-75 pages. The writing was fine, but I had expected it to be more literary. And in parts, especially earlier on when describing the blossoming love between Charles and Anne, it reminded me of a romance novel. For example:
"And in that moment, that first moment of flight, of my breaking of the rules of gravity -- I broke the rules of my heart, as well. For I had strictly governed it until this moment; this moment when I gave it, literally and figuratively, to the man seated behind me" (pg. 40 of nook)
(Not to mention the misuse of the term, literally... I suppose that was supposed to be the way the character spoke).

And another example:
"'You're up late,' he said, his piercing blue gaze sweeping over me, taking me all in; the robe was not cinched tightly around my waist, causing it to gape at the top of my thighs. I clutched the worn fabric, but Charles flushed anyway." (pg. 77 of nook).
But then the story moved on after that, considering that in 400 pages it covered almost 50 years. I really didn't know anything about Charles Lindbergh except that he was an aviator and his baby was kidnapped. (I had even been under the mistaken belief, for some reason, that the kidnapping was never solved). I learned a ton about this couple and, really, I found them both so unlikeable! Charles did seem sort of a caricature throughout, but, regardless, he was not a likeable man at all. And while I do understand Anne's thought process at the time for the era she was in, she gave him a lot of control over her. I also found some inconsistencies in the narrative. For instance, when I read this (below) I thought to my self... "B.S.!":
"I despised myself for letting him talk to me like this, and I never would have, before the baby was taken from me" (pg. 196 of nook).
That's actually not true. He spoke to you and treated you like that almost from the beginning. But okay.

So all that out of the way, I did enjoy the rest. We had some good discussions in the book club. I will leave you with a couple other quotes I did like from this book.

"I tried to recapture my passion for language, for playing with words almost as if they were floweres to be constantly rearranged into beautiful bouquets" (pg. 193 of nook)

"Jealousy is a terrible thing. It keeps you up at night, it demands tremendous energy in order to remain alive, and so you have to want to feed it, nurture it -- and by so wanting, you have to acknowledge that you are a bitter, petty person. It changes you. It changes the way you view the world; minor irritations become major catastrophes; celebrations become trials" (pg. 268 of nook)

Review: Stiff by Mary Roach

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Title: Stiff
Subtitle: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Author: Mary Roach
Pages: 304
Genre: Non-Fiction; Science
Publisher: W. W. Norton and Co.
Pub. Date: January 28, 2003
Audio Publisher: Tantor Media
Audio Narrator: Shelly Frasier
Audio Time: 7 hours, 59 minutes

The only other book I've read by Mary Roach I enjoyed but didn't actually finish. My reaction to what I had read was interesting, interesting, I never thought there could be so much to discuss about this topic or that I would be interested in it, but I am, okay now I feel a little bored, wait now it's interesting again. So, that was pretty much my exact reaction to this one!

Stiff is all about the things that human cadavers are used for. You'd never know there is actually enough material to fill an entire book! (ack, no pun intended!) I listened to this book on audio after reading a recommendation from another blogger and because I was able to get it through my library. Plus, I had seen Mary Roach talk in person at BEA in 2010 and I knew I liked her. She's funny, and I like the way she thinks. Well, I almost turned this audio off for good after I first started listening because I didn't think I could stomach it. It was gross. The first chapter talks about the use of practicing medicine on human heads. .  .  .

But I continued listening and was amazed. I had never even considered that human corpses were used in science at all. But apparently that is a common thing done in medical school. Seriously!? (Actually I read a medical book not long after this where the author mentioned it as well). I seriously had no idea and also didn't know that was a thing that people can choose to donate their bodies to after death. It was interesting to read about the students' reactions to dealing with this. Another interesting concept was the crimes of body snatching and digging up graves back in the day before these things were regulated and people did this to give the bodies to science and make money. Another thing I had never considered was the use of human bodies as crash test dummies. An actual dummy can only reflect so much what actually happens to someone in a crash because of the make up of an actual human body.

All in all, this was a book presented fascinating information about a topic I never knew to think about or that I would have thought would be interesting. The author is witty as I guess you'd have to be to make this topic interesting. I laughed out loud at some of the little, subtle things she said such as her interactions with the doctors who teach using human corpses. However, I don't think it would have ultimately kept my interest if I hadn't listened on audio. (It just seems to take more work to focus on a book than play an audio while you're driving).

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Monday, February 16, 2015

Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: The Penguin Press (Penguin Random House)
Pub. Date: June 26, 2014

Everything I Never Told You tells about the Lee family after the middle, favored, daughter, Lydia, dies. It goes back and forth a little with what happens to the family afterward and back to things that happened in the past including what led up to the day of Lydia's death. There are also things the the Lee family struggle with, as the family consists of a Chinese father and Caucasian mother with three biracial children in 1970's Ohio.

Some of my thoughts:

*I really related to the struggle felt by some of the characters of not fitting in due to their ethnicity or where even the kids who were half-Asian were looked at differently. I hated that they kept being referred to as "oriental", but that was the time they were living in.

*The author did a great job of showing the pressure the daughter experienced when each parent tried to mold her into a person based on their unrealized wishes for themselves. It was a good study of family psychology and the subtle dysfunctions they perpetuate.

*It was also a good study on the dynamics of marriage and how things were easily misconstrued and acted upon because of a very simple lack of communication.

*This is one of those books that is sad, but not the completely break your heart and have a good cry kind that ironically makes me love a book because now I feel so emotionally wrapped up in it. This doesn't necessarily leave you with any hope either. So, while a good story and greatly written, I felt very down while reading this. This could be because it was Christmas time when I read it and I should have picked something a little more cheery.

*Despite that, I really loved Ng's writing, and it kept me turning the pages. 

*There is sort of a mystery as to how exactly Lynda dies... I guess that part was sort of heart wrenching now that I think about it, in what happened and what it signified. 

*I have waffled between three and four stars for this one. When I analyze the things the author did well with this book, I lean towards four; but in terms of reading entertainment alone I am leaning towards 3. It could just be, though, that it was the wrong time of year for me to read this.

The Duff Book Giveaway Winners

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Okay, the drawing was done a little later than planned because of a last minute appointment yesterday.

The two winners are Sophia and Lindsay! E-mails have been sent. If I do not receive a response from them I will choose new winners.

The movie tie-in cover is super cute!

The Duff by Kody Keplinger: Book Giveaway AND Free Advance Movie Screening Tickets!!!!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hi Everyone! I have exciting news! But first a funny story.

So, almost five years ago, I was able to attend BEA in New York City (Book Expo America, the biggest publishing event held every year). I got tons of advanced copies of books that came out that year and the next, but there were just TWO that I was the most excited about. I've mentioned it before here, but the young adult book that I was so excited to read was The Duff by Kody Keplinger. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I never did read it and it has been sitting on my shelf ever since, saved there every time I purged through my books for donations. Anyway, I recently saw that the movie was coming out and again thought "I need to read that!!" (I am still determined to do so before I see the movie!) Anyway, The movie looks fun, and I really like Mae Whitman who plays "The DUFF". (She was Michael's girlfriend in Arrested Development and Amber on Parenthood).

So I am super excited to have a giveaway of TWO copies of The Duff as well as TEN admit-two complimentary tickets to the advanced screening of the movie which will be held at Regal Cinemas at Winter Park Village on February 17, 2015 @ 7:00 pm!! The movie is officially released on February 20th. Here is a trailer for the movie below:

Now, to grab one of the TEN admit-two tickets go here:

Leave me a comment to let me know you got your tickets, and of course, let me know if there are any problems. Also, the screening is first come first served once you have tickets, so make sure to get there early for good seats. :)

To enter for a copy of the BOOK, fill out the form below.
I will randomize all the entries on Friday, February 13, 2015 @ 2:00 pm and then e-mail winners for their address.

Mini-Mini Reviews #2

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I decided to go back and do a bunch of mini reviews for all the books I read but failed to review over the past two years. This will make me feel sort of caught up and refreshed and maybe will help me be motivated to keep up with reviewing what I've read this year! Some of these will be very mini since I can't remember them that well. This is batch #2.


Title: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Author: Ann Patchett
Genre: Non-fiction; Essays
Publisher: Harper (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: November 5, 2013

I read this in April of last year and really wish I had written a review then. I enjoyed this one but, ugh, I'm sorry, again I don't remember too much about this. I remember really enjoying some of the essays. What I liked was how Patchett emphasized the difficulty of being a writer and said, no, not every can do it. If I remember correctly, she sort of mocked the concept of characters just having a life of their own and was big on, no, they do exactly what you say and create them to do which I thought was funny and so true. I feel like she contradicted some other writers in what she said but, to me, she was more realistic and truthful in that she really focused on the skill and hard work that goes into being an author. I have read and enjoyed her books in the past, especially Bel Canto and State of Wonder (this being one of my favorites!), and reading her essays made me want to go back and read them again. And also it made me interested in reading the book she wrote about her friend, Truth and Beauty, which I never had any desire to read before. She almost, but not quite, made me feel interested in opera (in talking about how she grew to love it), but it did make me want to re-invest in some of my interests. I've been enjoying essays lately, and I will probably go back and read this one again someday.

Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Pages: 331
Genre: Fiction; Young Adult
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (Macmillan)
Pub. Date: February 26, 2013

I found this cute and, at times, laugh out loud. I don't necessarily know if I thought it was that realistic, but I did feel like my teen self
would have related well to the teens in this book.

Titles: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth
Pages: 487; 525; 539
Genre: Fiction; Young Adult; Dystopian
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins)
Pub. Dates: May 3, 2011
                     May 2, 2012
                      October 22, 2013

This was an interesting series, and I did enjoy reading Divergent, but overall I felt sort of "meh" about this series. I know this is an unpopular opinion. I feel like everyone I know who read this is gaga over Four, but I just didn't care that much. I sort of felt these books were a little repetitive. I've heard this referred to as a mix between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, and I have to say I like those two series significantly more than this one.


Title: Unsung Lullabies
Subtitle: Understanding and Coping with Infertility
Authors: Martha & David Diamond, Janet Jaffe
Pages: 229
Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychological; Self-help
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (Macmillan)
Pub. Date: June 28, 2005

This was written by three psychologists who had experienced infertility themselves, two of them who are married to each other. I, personally, didn't find anything new or amazingly helpful and thought it was pretty general, but it is entirely possible that I already think in the way they talked about because I am a counselor for a living, maybe? I will say, if I remember correctly, they all had success eventually and I have been so tired (for a long time now) of reading books fiction and non that always have a successful ending. My husband and I have reached the end of our journey, unfortunately unsuccessfully after even the most invasive treatments, and this makes it even harder for me to relate to these books now. *I will say I have read that many women did find this book immensely helpful*.

Title: The Things They Carried
Author: Tim O'Brien
Pages: 246
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Broadway (Random House)
Pub. Date: March 28, 1990

This is a modern classic about the Vietnam War. I have been super into books about war lately, so I was glad I read this. It is a bunch of short stories that are connected. I read this for book club a while ago so I don't remember details, but I do remember thinking the writing was different -- not so different that it was difficult to read, but just almost unique. The first chapter was interesting and then annoyingly repetitive (detailing, literally, the things they carried), but overall I enjoyed the book and can see why it's a classic.

Review: Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Title: Without You, There Is No Us
Subtitle: My Time With the Sons of North Korea's Elite
Author: Suki Kim
Pages: 385
Genre: Non-fiction; memoir; sociological
Publisher: Crown (Penguin Random House)
Pub. Date: October 14, 2014

This memoir is written about the days that author, Suki Kim, taught English to boys at a university in North Korea where she posed as a Christian missionary. (These missionaries were allowed to teach there because the funding for the school itself had been largely from Christian organizations). In doing so, and in being a teacher, Kim was able to provide a look into the minds of the young people who live there.

We already know, (at least if you've done any reading on the topic at all), the ways in which people there are "brainwashed" to believe the things they do and about the ways in which they are cut off from the rest of the world in an almost alternate reality. Interacting with these kids absolutely depicted this exact thing. Kim's goals were to learn and report about this but to also instill in the boys some concept of thinking for themselves and the realization that things weren't as they were raised to believe.

The boys Kim taught were of the "elite" so had better lives and opportunities than the average North Korean which is crazy considering how they were still treated and controlled. Reading this gave me that same tense and anxious feeling I had when reading Orwell's 1984... nightmarish. The things these boys (men, really) believed about their country were ridiculous... basically believing they are the best in so many different ways and how the rest of the world envies them. But the ways they were controlled also was nightmarish. For instance, when construction needed to be done, the government took the kids from the school and forced them to do labor... But even scarier is that the kids would respond with the attitude that they didn't at all mind, as it was for their Dear Leader. 

This was a fascinating look at the ways the environment can shape a person. They were all human and had curiosities (to the degree they were permitted, of course) and reading about everything they wanted to know, were learning, and the concepts their life experiences prevented them from grasping was disheartening and heartwarming at the same time. Ugh, there were frustrating feelings while reading this. Sometimes I just wanted to scream or shake people in the book! 

I could see some people having issue with the deception that took place as part of Kim doing research for the book. In a way, I did feel for the boys who I did feel were exploited to a degree, as they may never know the truth of their interactions with Kim. Though I do feel Kim's reporting was well done and that she genuinely cared for these kids. It was interesting to see the ways she creatively responded to their questions both to keep herself out of trouble but also to try to enlighten them a little.

I wish there had been more to the ending. But I guess there isn't really more to tell considering the memoir goes through 2011 and nothing has changed in the way things are there. I would be interested, though maybe not possible, to see where these boys are years later. 

I do highly recommend this book, especially along with Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick if you haven't read that. Both will teach you a lot about life in North Korea and both are fascinating reads.

Mini-mini reviews! #1

Friday, January 9, 2015

I decided to go back and do a bunch of mini reviews for all the books I read but failed to review over the past two years. This will make me feel sort of caught up and refreshed and maybe will help me be motivated to keep up with reviewing what I've read this year! Some of these will be very mini since I can't remember them that well. This is batch #1.

Title: And The Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Fiction
Page: 402
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Pub. Date: May 21, 2013

This was definitely not on par with either of Hosseini's previous books which were both wonderful. He's still a good storyteller, but this one left me wanting more. It felt more like a book of connected short stories than a full novel, and I may have liked it better if it had been advertised that way because the way it was I kept waiting for everything to come together more.

Title: Wonder
Author: R. J. Palacio
Pages: 315
Genre: Fiction; middle grade
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House)
Pub. Date: February 14, 2012

This is the first book I read last year. It is a middle grade book. It was cute and had a good message. I don't remember it being as "omgz" fabulous as everyone thought. A book about being different. Honestly, I'd have to read it again to remember if I'd recommend it or not. Sorry! I do remember thinking that although it was one kids could relate to, it was a little too "easy" in terms of how things became better for the character.

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Page: 550
Genre: Historical fiction; young adult
Publisher: Knopf (Random House)
Pub. Date: March 14, 2006

This was on last year's book bucket list. It was good. But again, with the immense praise it has received I actually expected more.

Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Pages: 252
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Broadway (Crown Publishing Group)
Pub. Date: September 26, 2006

Gillian Flynn's first published novel. It was very good. I don't know if the plot was necessarily supposed to be a twist, since I saw where it was going pretty fast. Although I like to think that's just my special acumen! It wasn't as twisted as Gone Girl, for sure, but it was still a great story with some messed up characters!

Review: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

Monday, January 5, 2015

Title: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
Subtitle: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
Pages: 402
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: September 23, 2014

Synopsis from Barnes & Noble:

A heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets—and of one’s own nature—when he returns home.

When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, “fronting” in Yale, and at home.

Through an honest rendering of Robert’s relationships—with his struggling mother, with his incarcerated father, with his teachers and friends and fellow drug dealers—The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace encompasses the most enduring conflicts in America: race, class, drugs, community, imprisonment, education, family, friendship, and love. It’s about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds—the ivy-covered campus of Yale University and Newark, New Jersey, and the difficulty of going from one to the other and then back again. It’s about poverty, the challenges of single motherhood, and the struggle to find male role models in a community where a man is more likely to go to prison than to college. It’s about reaching one’s greatest potential and taking responsibility for your family no matter the cost. It’s about trying to live a decent life in America. But most all the story is about the tragic life of one singular brilliant young man. His end, a violent one, is heartbreaking and powerful and unforgettable.

One of the things I liked best about this book was how it was a eulogy of sorts to the author's friend (and former college roommate). Before reading this, I had wondered if there was any possibility that maybe the writing of this book was exploitative at all. But what I found instead was that the author seems to have genuinely cared for and regarded this man and wanted to tell his story.

Growing up in a neighborhood of low socioeconomic status where "hustling" was often a way of life, Robert Peace, seemed to overcome this and eventually made it to Yale, where he earned a degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. But going back home after college brought Peace back into the dangerous lifestyle that many at home lived. 

What I found interesting, for one, was how post college life turned out differently than expected for a lot of people. This surprised me I guess, because you would assume that someone who goes to an Ivy League school will have it All. Figured.Out afterwards. And I was surprised and frustrated, as I'm sure most readers would be, at how Peace's life choices did not reflect nearly what he was capable of. This book, in addition to being a thoughtful biography, was also an interesting look at the societal dynamics of growing up in the "hood" and the impact this continues to have on the kids who grow up there, even when they are provided with great resources. The thought is that the concept of "choices" may still be different, to a certain degree, based on the environment that shapes you during your childhood. Peace's decision making was influenced greatly by his father, who was in jail for double murder (and for whom Peace worked steadily by researching law books to try to fight for him legally), and in his desire to provide for his mother who worked tirelessly to provide the best for him. But despite how smart he was, he often made decisions that were not in his best interest. 

This book is sad because of the tragedy and how Peace's life ends (and knowing throughout the reading that this is coming up), but I was comforted by knowing that Peace really did a lot during the short life he led (both for himself and for others). He definitely led a full life. 

I thought everything was well researched and well written. The author could have easily just focused on writing what he knew and added in a couple interviews. But he was very thorough, providing history about the town, the schools, Peace's mom and the way she parented her son, etc.

Highly recommended!