Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category
Last year, I dedicated a post to books to read for fall. So I thought, why not make it a tradition? I have chosen 5 books that really evoke fall to me. Not exactly spooky, but a little on the odd side. Perfect for a night in, drinking warm cider, and snuggled up on the couch (and, in my case, with a few cats).
1. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
So, this is a strange book. It might be one of the strangest books I have ever read. While normally I would classify this as a winter read, something about it really speaks to me about fall, Halloween, and just that feeling in the air in October. There are three narrators in this book: Minerva, a young woman who suffers from pica, Ore, a girlfriend Minerva meets in college, and the house in which the family who are the focus of the book live. It’s interesting, creepy, and just a little on the odd side — which might just be the reason I like it. This book isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely not boring.
2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I would really recommend this book for any season, but the imagery and costumes described by the author are very evocative of fall. I have previously reviewed this book on this site, so I won’t do it again. But I highly recommend you read this book!
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I know what you’re thinking: This book has the number thirteen in it, and that’s why I’ve chosen it for fall, because of Halloween, right? Not really. This story is very Gothic in nature. Family secrets, ghosts, romance, and mystery. This is one book that pulled me in right away, and intrigued me the entire time. Full of twists and turns, it is a great book for a cool, fall evening.
4. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
If you have to ask why I picked this as a fall read, you must not know anything about this book. It’s full title, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West should shed some light on that. Many people think October, and they go straight to Halloween: witches, goblins, pumpkins, and black cats. But, this book tells the other side of that wicked witch, one you might find surprising. This book has inspired a phenomenal and highly decorated Broadway play, and it’s one of my favorites.
5. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Another one of those odd but good books, this young adult novel starts off with a 16 year old boy who, because of the death of his grandfather, travels to an island off the coast of Wales and discovers the remains of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. He explores the abandoned building, and finds old photographs among the ruins. The book goes off in a completely unexpected direction, but does so successfully. Not at all what I imagined it would be, this book left me surprised but satisfied.
And there you have it. Five great books to read this fall!
When I first heard about Stephen King’s book 11/22/63, I wasn’t sure what it was about. JFK, obviously, since the title refers to the date Kennedy was assassinated. But I didn’t know if I wanted to read a book about that incident, and at 880 pages, it seemed a little daunting. So, I went on with life. I would see it mentioned here and there, and wonder if I was missing out on something. But I wasn’t ready to commit to such a large book at the time. However, I finally decided to read a little more about the book. Of course I knew Stephen King would be writing something a little offbeat, but when the subject of Kennedy’s assassination is paired with time travel, I’m in. So, that’s what turned my mind around about the whole thing.
It took me almost a week to finish the book, so it’s not a light read (most of King’s novels are not), but I am glad I decided to give it a try. The book revolves around a man, Jake Epping, who, through the use of a time portal in a diner, goes back to 1963 to stop the assassination of JFK. The time portal always takes the time traveler back to 1958, no matter what. So, Jake has to live in the past for 5 years (as a man named George), working out how to stop the assassination, how to spend his time, and what to do when he falls in love with a woman. He meets a lot of problems, and the line “the past is obdurate” is spoken repeatedly, meaning the past doesn’t want to change. There are a lot of obstacles, and the ending was not what I was expecting.
The historical portion of the novel was very well-researched, and King writes in a letter to the reader at the end of the book that he started the novel in the 70′s, and only got around to writing it in the last few years. He also says he read a lot of books, newspapers, and heard a lot of stories from people in order to write the book. Thus, a lot of the book is historically accurate. Obviously, not the part about the time portal, but a lot of the stories about Lee Harvey Oswald and his associates are not fiction.
Although there are many phrases that are repeated constantly in the book, it is a great read. Sometimes I wonder if he did that on purpose, to play with the whole time travel/deja vu feeling, or if he just repeats himself a lot in his writing. I am not an expert on Stephen King, and haven’t read much by him so I wouldn’t know if this is a recurring thing for him in his books.
I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of science fiction, thriller, or Stephen King. It is a well-written novel, and kept my attention for the whole 880 pages (which isn’t always an easy task). It might not be the horror that many King fans are used to, but it has its own brand of horror that comes from the evil of people, as opposed to the evil of monsters.
A couple of weeks ago, I showed the current New York Times best seller list. I said that I had read a few of the books, and that I would review one of them soon. And here we are. And here is my review of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.
We all know that I love books about the circus, carnivals, and magicians. It’s just something I’m drawn to. I had been waiting for this book to be released since I heard about it a few months prior. Just looking at the cover tells you there is something magical inside. I know, I know — never judge a book by its cover, but in this case I think it’s okay. See what I mean:
Luckily, beyond the cover is a story equally bewitching. The novel tells the story of Le Cirque des Rêves. A circus that pops up with no warning, in a city that was not expecting it. Not there one day, and completely alive the next. The black and white striped tents hold such unique and amazing wonders that you would have to see it to believe it. And most who come to this circus never forget it. There are even Le Cirque des Rêves enthusiasts, who attempt to follow the circus around. Within this circus, there is a duel happening between two magicians who are unwittingly battling until only one is left standing.
The story is riveting, clever, and fun. I could not put this book down. There was just something about it that made me want to keep on reading. The novel is told from multiple points of view, and most chapters are less than five pages. And there are no boring narratives. Each character you find interesting will be back to tell their story within a few chapters. And the narratives weave their way through the labyrinth of mystery, and leave you with one brilliant novel.
I was surprised to see that this is Morgenstern’s debut novel as it is written in a very sophisticated manner. After reading it, I can only hope that she goes on to write more and more because this is one author I would be willing to follow throughout her career. This book is perfect for lovers of Sarah Addison Allen, Harry Potter, circuses, and well written, fun novels.
Catch me at home on a weekday, and there is a good chance you’ll find me watching Investigation Discovery. The channel that shows 48 Hours, Dateline, Nightmare Next Door, On the Case, and other true crime series. Needless to say, I enjoy watching stories of wives who snapped, men who disappeared, and all other kinds of crime stories. There are tons of different shows on that channel that highlight murder, disappearances, and stalking. So, of course I decided to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It involves all of the aforementioned crime, and more.
The story revolves around a couple, Nick Dunne & Amy Elliot Dunne. It is their fifth anniversary, and Amy has gone missing. Of course, fiction follows fact and the police immediately suspect Nick. A friend of Amy’s reveals to the police (and the world) that Amy was afraid of him, and had many secrets. Nick denies having any involvement with her disappearance, although much of the evidence points right to him. But his behavior is strange for someone whose wife disappeared in what appeared to be a struggle. So, what really happened to Amy
? You’ll have to read to figure that one out.
I read this book relatively quickly, because it’s one of those “I need to know the ending” kind of suspense novels. It was definitely not what I expected, and the ending really threw me off. Having watched my fair share of crime shows, a lot of the descriptions seemed accurate. So, she definitely did her research on wife disappearances. The first half of the novel was completely feasible: husband finds out wife is missing, police suspect husband, secrets are revealed, etc. And it seems that a lot of the inspiration comes from actual cases of wives disappearing. But, in the second half of the book, the story takes an odd turn. It was unexpected, but still worked. But the ending was unsatisfying.
The first part of the novel is all about the investigation into Amy’s disappearance, slowly unraveling Nick’s dirty secrets, reminiscing about the troubled history of Nick and Amy’s marriage as told in Amy’s hidden diary. Then a twist in the second part changes everything. The characters you thought you knew begin to morph, and then the real story unfolds. I do recommend this book for those of you who love crime/mystery novels. And if you enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s previous books (Dark Places, Sharp Objects), you won’t be disappointed in this one. Yeah, the end feels a little bit strange, but it’s worth the ride (and the price).
Since I really enjoyed reading The Hunger Games trilogy, someone recommended that I begin the Divergent trilogy, written by Veronica Rother. Not sure if I wanted to read a rip-off of the books I had loved so much, I was a bit skeptical. Both series of books take place in a dystopian future, revolve around a main female character who is highly skilled at what she does, involve sectors that have been broken up for various reasons, and war is looming. It sounded very similar, but I decided to give it a chance. While there are many similarities (ones I have listed, and others seem to crop up as the story progresses), the book is interesting, engaging, and exciting.
The novel takes place in Chicago world, where society has been divided into five factions following a war. Each faction is dedicated to cultivating one virtue, based on what the believe was the downfall of the former society and cause of war. The factions are: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Every year, sixteen year olds across the city select which faction they choose, and thus will devote their lives to. The main character, Beatrice Prior, must decide whether to continue the life she lives in Abegnation, or leave her family and become who she really is. After choosing, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her peers to make it through initiation to becom
e a member of the faction they have chose. But Tris also has a secret she has kept hidden because she was warned it could be dangerous if others found out. Tris soon discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel the seemingly perfect society, and learns that her secret may save her and others, or it could kill her.
The book, being of the Young Adult genre, is a fairly quick read. Although, if the story had not been so engaging, I may not have had the interest in continuing. Since it is a Young Adult novel, the writing is kind of bland and predictable. But the story is unique, and saves whatever is missing in the writing. There also seem to be a few gaps in the story-line, (what happened to the rest of the world as they seem to have no contact with other cities or states, or how the war that created the factions began, for example) which affects my ability to believe the story. Perhaps the only inhabited area left in the world is Chicago, but I find that hard to believe as well.
But whatever problems I may have had with the quality of writing or believability, I must have liked something about it because I have already read half of the second book: Insurgent. I like the characters, and the story that is unfolding. Once I picked it up, I had trouble putting it down. But I do have one warning: the third book has not yet been published, so if you are someone who doesn’t like to wait for a satisfying end to a story, I would wait to start reading. If you are looking for a book similar to The Hunger Games in style and ease of reading, this is a book for you. If, on the other hand, you are more into literary fiction, or books written for adults, I would skip this trilogy.
Good news! Not only did I complete one Vonnegut novel in the past week, I read 4! In addition to broadening my horizons by reading, I am also adding to my book count for the year. Which, admittedly, is a little shabby. Speaking of my goal, I will tell you that I am 16% finished (having read 8 books so far in 2012), and only 7 books behind! I am pretty confident I can get back on track in the next few weeks.
But enough about that challenge, what I really want to write about today is my favorite of the Vonnegut books I have read thus far. And that is Sirens of Titan. Before I decided to delve more into the writings of Kurt Vonnegut, I really only knew of the big 3: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5, and Breakfast of Champions. I had never heard of Sirens of Titan, but I figured I would give it a shot. And I was pleasantly surprised.
The premise of the book revolves around the life of the richest man in the world: Malachi Constant. Constant is invited to the mysterious Rumfoord Estate to witness a materialization of a man and his dog that occurs every 59.9 days. As a result of his encounter with a phenomenon in space, the man (who we learn is Mr. Rumfoord) now exists as a wave phenomena and has complete knowledge of the past a future. . Malachi is the
first person (other than the man’s wife, Beatrice) who is allowed to see and speak to Rumfoord during one of these materializations.
During the visit, Rumfoord tells Constant explains that Malachi will go on a series of journeys through space, and will end up with Beatrice on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. Of course, the richest man in the world does not like this idea, so he does everything he can to prevent this fate. This starts the series of events that make up the novel. Along the way, Vonnegut explores religion, free will, the meaning of life, and the meaning loss.
The book (and all of Vonnegut’s books I have read so far) perfectly blend sci-fi with satire with humor with observation of daily life. And the novel also took some giant leaps and turns in directions that I wasn’t really expecting. It’s clever, and easy to read — but it still holds a lot of thought-provoking questions. I have since read Galapagos, Cat’s Cradle (again), and Breakfast of Champions. While still interesting novels, they didn’t compare to the wit and the story found in Sirens of Titan. It is definitely a hidden gem in the bibliography of such a prolific writer. I am skeptical if any of his other works can come close to that one, but I am excited to find out!
When I first decided to read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, it was because the synopsis I read explained that it was based on a Russian fairy tale. The fairy tale, called “Snegurochka” (or The Snow Maiden), is about an older couple that make a typical snowman out of snow. This couple is older, and never had children, but always wished they would. They make their snowman into more of a snow child, and to their surprise — the next day, she is alive. I love fairy tales, and knowing that The Snow Child was an adaptation of sorts of that fairy tale, I hoped it would live up to expectation.
It did, for the most part. The actual novel takes place in the brutal landscape of Alaska in the 1920′s. A couple in their fifties, Mabel and Jack, have moved to this wilderness following tragedy. As the years wear on, they begin to drift apart. Jack is always working in the field, trying to make a living on a farm. And Mabel is lonely and desperate for the life she envisioned when they decided to move to Alaska. Much like the couple in the fairy tale, the two wish for a child that they never had. One night, in a moment of child-like happiness during the first snow, the couple builds a snowman. They give it gloves, a scarf, and make it look like a little girl. The next day, the snowman is gone. But they glimpse a little girl (wearing the same red gloves and scarf as the snowman) running around outside of their home. This wouldn’t be suspicious if they weren’t in Alaska, where their nearest neighbor is miles away. And no parent in their right mind would let a young child wander around alone.
She calls herself Faina, and seems to have simply stepped out of the pages of one of Mabel’s fairy tale books. Eventually, Jack and Mabel start to think of her as their daughter. But, much like the fairy tale, she disappears in the summers and returns in the winters. The mystery of the girl is eventually explained, but only to an extent. There are still many things we never understand about this girl. She brings Jack and Mabel closer together, and brings them joy. But there are things going on that nobody can predict, and leads to an unexpected ending of the book.
Like I said, I love fairy tales. And this book was almost like a fairy tale in a fairy tale. Mabel has a book she refers to (which contains the Russian tale Snegurochka), which she expects the girl to abide by. She believes she is in this fairy tale. She believes Faina is truly their snow child they made that first snow. It is interesting to see how things transform in the book. The relationship between Jack and Mabel is brought together by this young girl. Mabel first wanted to move there to be alone, but the more time goes on you realize she never wanted that. They befriend a family from a few miles away, and continue to see Faina. And Mabel is transformed from this lonely, depressed woman into a happy, friendly one. And Faina most of all. She starts out as this woodland nymph, maybe only 6 or 8 years old, and eventually becomes a ruthless, ethereal hunter.
The only caution I will give you about this book is that it contains a lot of sadness. There are few moments when all characters are truly happy, and those moments are always cast with this net of foreboding that comes from Mabel and her fairy tale book. When thinking of a fairy tale, you think that it might be happy and lovely. But this is more tragic, and the story is more about loss and grief and how to move passed that. Only, you come to realize, you can’t. You can move from one loss, only to be steamrolled by another. But you have to enjoy the moments in between, because those are all you have. Don’t take life too seriously, build a snowman, act like children, have fun, because that’s all you can do.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of fairy tales, or is interested in reading about what life must have been like in Alaska in 1920. Sure, this isn’t a non-fiction book, but it is easy to envision how Mabel and Jack must have lived. They moved from their rather cushy life in the Eastern United States, to this desolate land of forests and winter. Only to realize this is where they were meant to be all along.
I recently finished reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I was familiar with the story because not long ago I read a book of short stories by Russell called St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised by Wolves which featured the short story Ava Wrestles an Alligator that was basically the condensed version of the book. There are differences, and the book goes into more detail, but it seems she decided that the story was good enough to transfer from short story to novel.
The book is told from the point of view of Ava Bigtree, a thirteen year old girl who has lived her entire life on an island in the Everglades. Her family owns Swamplandia!, an alligator wrestling themed amusement park on the island. We learn early on that Ava and her siblings (sister Osceola and brother Kiwi) have recently lost their mother, the star of the alligator wrestling and diving show at Swamplandia!, to cancer and are in danger of losing the park. Following the tragic death of the matriarch of the family, their father (who they call the Chief) is in denial and believes he can save the park, Osceola falls in love with a ghost called the Dredgeman, and Kiwi leaves the island for the mainland and gets a job at a newly opened park called The World of Darkness in order to save money to send his family. Ava feels it’s up to her to not only save the park, but to save her sister Osceola from the Dredgeman. But to do that, she will have to take an adventure through the dangerous Everglades.
Since I have read both the short story and the novel based on the same idea, it’s hard not to compare the two. I will say, the story is more successful in short story form. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the novel, because I did. But, about 3/4 of the way through, the book took some unexpected turns and kind of stumbled over itself. I loved reading about the gator theme park, Osceola’s romances with ghosts, and even Kiwi’s adventures on the mainland. It’s also funny how the family calls all of the alligators on the island “Seths” after the first alligator at the park. But at one point, the author seems to lose the wind from her sails, but she continued the story. At 416 pages, it is far from a long book, but it probably could have been much shorter. Having read many reviews prior to reading it, I was expecting something lighter and more fantastical. Instead, I got a lot of bad things happening to naive people. It seemed like it was going to be a magical story, but kind of turned out to be a depressing one.
I highly recommend the book of shorts stories I previously mentioned, as the variety and conciseness of the short stories in that book are more indicative of the author’s creativity and skill. It’s worth your time to give Swamplandia! a shot. I am on the fence as to whether or not I loved the book. I liked it, and I have read the first few chapters of many worse books. I mean, I was able to finish it which I can’t say about every book I pick up. It just wasn’t quite what I expected.
As a child, I loved books. I learned to read when I was fairly young, and I attribute this to my parents and teachers who would always read to me. And Christmas books are some of my most remembered books. For some reason, they stick out in my head much more clearly than other picture books. So, today, I thought I would just share some of my favorite Christmas books from when I was a child. Maybe they would make great presents for your children. Or, perhaps, you’ll remember these books as fondly as I do.
1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Of course, this would be on the list. This book is a classic, and I grew up with it, along with the television special that aired every Christmas season. The red, white, and black illustrations were perfect for the story, and I remember them vividly. I learned that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, and that maybe Christmas means a little bit more. Although, I am still working on what exactly a “fuzzle” or “who hash” is.
2. The Night Before Christmas
There was no certain edition, author, or illustrator of the Night Before Christmas books I remember because there were so many. It is a story that has been told over and over again, and for good reason. It brings together the magic and the wonder of Christmas as a child. Any iteration of this classic story is bound to bring smiles to children no matter how old.
3. Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble
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ploads/2011/12/appletree.jpg” alt=”" width=”223″ height=”271″ />I have always wanted to live on a farm, and have lots of animals and land and a giant farmhouse. Even as a kid, I begged my parents for a cow or a horse to keep at our house. Apple Tree Christmas is set in the late 1800′s, on a farm. There is an old apple tree that gets taken down by a storm, and its branches used for firewood. The child in the story has grown very attached to the apple tree, and can’t believe her parents are just using it as firewood like it’s no big deal. It’s a simple story, and reminiscent of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder for a younger audience.
4. The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes
I am an animal lover, and have always been an animal lover. I have 4 cats, and have had cats as long as I can remember. Which is probably why I loved this story so much. Bad weather is causing problems for Santa, and a poor, abandoned kitten. It’s a cute story with a happy ending that anybody who loves animals can appreciate.
5. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaolo wrote many children’s books, and many starred Strega Nona or Grandma Witch. I loved reading this because the story includes many Italian Christmas traditions that I had never heard of. I liked that Strega Nona was a good witch who always taught Big Anthony a lesson, and this book is no different. And the illustrations of Tomie dePaola books were always a favorite of mine.
Looking back, I haven’t changed that much. I still love all 5 of these books, and would gladly give them as gifts or read them to any of the children in my life.
Even though it seems the whole world has already read it, I finally got around to reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It took longer than usual to finish due to the interruption of the Thanksgiving holiday, but it was worth it. I can see why it has been on the best seller list for so long, and adapted to a movie.
The book is about a girl, Skeeter, who just graduated from Ole Miss. She comes back to her Jackson, Mississippi home, only to realize her life is completely different. Her parent’s maid Constantine who has worked for the family for 29 years is gone. All of her friends are married, most with children (and thus, most with maids or ‘help’) and these women are not interested in working. Skeeter’s dream is to be a writer, and everyone else wonders why her dream isn’t to meet a man and have babies. After her closest friend, Hilly, introduces a new initiative that states all of the help (who are all black) must have separate bathrooms in the employer’s home, Skeeter considers how the help might feel about that. This leads to a great idea — to write a book from the perspective of the
help. Something that has never been done before.
Two maids, Aibileen and Minny, along with Skeeter work together to write this clandestine book with the help of a dozen other maids. And, of course, a collaboration between white and black isn’t the most simple thing to do in 1960s Mississippi. The characters are funny, tragic, and so authentic you feel like you know them. You really get a feeling of what it must have been like during this time of civil rights upheaval. There are moments you want to laugh or cry, or scream at someone because of their intolerance and hate.
Although the chapters told through the point of view of Minny and Aibileen were a little heavy on the dialect, I know this is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time. It is a story about reaching your goals, learning about yourself, and being courageous in the face of those who doubt or betray you. Many reviews of this book call it an “instant classic,” and “the best book in years.” I haven’t read every book that has come out in the last few years, so I am not sure I can say it is the best book in years, but I certainly agree it is an instant classic.
If you are one of the few dozen people left on the planet who haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it. I also recommend the film adaptation, but only after you have finished the book, of course!