Books #27 through #37 of 2014

After a little friendly encouragement from a fellow blogger, I’m back! I’ve been debating all summer whether or not I want to keep writing here. Does anyone care what I have to say? Should I really be putting myself out there for the world to see? Is it safe to do this? The world is full of weirdos, you guys.

But, I’ve come to the conclusion that (1) It doesn’t really matter if anyone cares what I have to say because I started this blog for me, not anyone else, (2) I enjoy writing and as long as I’m careful and don’t share too much personal info, I should be fine. So here I am, and I have quite a bit of catching up to do.

I’ll be honest – I have no motivation to go back through the last ten books I’ve read and write individual reviews. I looked at my reading challenge on Goodreads and there are some books on there that I couldn’t properly summarize in a real review even if I tried. Here is a quick recap:

Book #27: After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell
This story is told from Alice’s point of view, at times skipping into the past to explain her relationship with a man, and then fast forwarding to the present day as she’s lying unconscious in a hospital. Was she in an accident? Did she try to kill herself? This one was dark and kind of depressing, but I also really enjoyed it. It kept me guessing the whole way through and I greatly enjoyed it overall.

Book #28: The Giver by Lois Lowry
I was beyond excited to read this, because I felt like it was a book most of my peers had read in school at some point. I felt like I was missing out. Plus, it was short and I figured it would be a fast read, thus bumping up my read count. Turns out this wasn’t the book that everyone had read – I was thinking of Bread Givers. Oops. That’s ok, though, because this was a delightful read. I didn’t know what to expect, really, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Jonas’ world and his experiences. I don’t really know how to describe this one, but I would recommend it to anyone. My only complaint is the ending, which I won’t spoil. Let’s just say that I interpreted the ending one way and then after researching the book, I was disappointed.

Book #29: Finding Me by Michelle Knight
I can remember sitting at work and seeing the breaking news alert on my computer that several young women had been rescued from a “house of horrors” in Cleveland. I had never even heard their names before, let alone their story, but I was immediately drawn in and wanted to learn more about them. When I discovered that Michelle Knight was writing a book, I knew I had to read it. She spared no details, which meant that certain excerpts were difficult to read. It pained me to read about what she experienced, not just during her time held captive, but in her earlier life as well. Although at times it read a bit child-like, I appreciated the simple approach and her down-to-earth writing style.

Book #30: Every Day by David Levithan
A is a disembodied entity (soul? spirit?) who wakes up every morning in a different body. S/he takes over a different person’s life every morning and has to function as that person for 24 hours without causing too much permanent disruption. This proves difficult when s/he wakes up in a family who speaks a different language, or if s/he can’t access the person’s memories quickly enough to respond correctly in a conversation. One day A meets a girl and breaks all his/her rules about how involved to be. A unique and fun concept, the only problem I had with this book is that you have to suspend all belief in science and reality, and allow yourself to believe whatever the author tells you.

Book #31: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
When her daughter, Amelia, mysteriously dies at school after falling from the roof, Kate begins to investigate what actually happened. She doesn’t believe the theory that Amelia got caught cheating and then killed herself – she knows there is more to the story. We get to hear from multiple characters and the story flashes back between the recent past and the present to reconstruct what exactly happened to Amelia and what led her to the roof that fateful day.

Book #32: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
This turned out to be one of my favorite recent reads. It took me over a month to finish, including some overdue fines at the library because I brought it on vacation with me. It wasn’t especially difficult to get through, so I’m not entirely sure what took me so long, other than I was completely engrossed in Gemma’s life and I wanted to really read every word. It follows Gemma from the time she is a little girl up until she is a young adult. We experience her parents’ death, her move to Scotland to live with her uncle, his death and her expulsion from his house, her adventures in boarding school and as a nanny. I felt like I was watching a movie as I was reading. This was well-written with just enough drama to make it interesting, but not so much as to make it unbelievable.

Book #33: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This was another one on my must-read list because I never read it in school. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I won’t bother with a summary since it’s such a well-known book and movie, but I just could not connect to these characters or care about them at all. Perhaps the worst part for me was the dialogue – it felt so uncomfortable. The movie actually came on TV the day after I finished reading it, and I thought maybe that would help me appreciate it more. My husband was excited and told me it was one of his favorite movies of all time. It did nothing for me. I am glad I gave it a chance, though, because now at least I have my own opinion of it.

Book #34: Every You, Every Me by David Levithan
I was excited about the concept of this book: that it is impossible for anyone to truly know every side of a person. Everyone has secrets and everyone projects a certain personality depending on who they’re with and what the situation is. However, the book really fell short of my expectations. I learned that the author would receive a photo from a colleague and then write the story around the photo. This really showed in the finished product because the whole thing felt forced and disconnected, and well, just plain strange.

Book #35: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
My husband is really into comic books and he had heard that this graphic novel was supposed to be very good. He’s wanted it forever and he’s been trying to convince me to give it a try. I ended up buying volumes one and two for him for our anniversary, and I picked it up because I was out of books and jonesing for something to read. I can’t tell you how pleasantly surprised I was. It’s based on the author’s life growing up in Iran, and it spans the time form when she was a very young girl until she was a teenager. I loved hearing about the wars and fighting from a child’s perspective. She had a basic understanding of what was going on, but she also just wanted to hang out with her friends and have fun. I highly, highly recommend this.

Book #36: Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi
Naturally, since I enjoyed the first volume so much, I was excited to continue reading about Marjane’s experiences. I don’t know if my expectations were too high, or if I just didn’t care for it, but this one was a struggle to get through. The author came across as somewhat whiny, and I couldn’t relate to her life choices at all. I found myself rolling my eyes and judging her a lot, even though I didn’t mean to. Whereas the first one made me smile, laugh, and even cry, this one made me just want to hurry up and finish it so I could move on to something else.

Book #37: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
I absolutely loved the Percy Jackson series of books. I can remember starting to read this one several years ago, but then I think Hurricane Irene happened and our life got turned upside down and this book got lost in a box somewhere for quite awhile. I decided to pick it back up and start from the beginning since I couldn’t remember anything about it. It’s no Percy Jackson, but it was fun and entertaining. It did connect to Percy because you do get to revisit Camp Half Blood and some of the original characters. I felt kind of lukewarm about it while I was reading, but then the ending completely left me hanging and wanting to continue the series.

And now I’m working on Insurgent, which I’m loving, although not as much as Divergent. I’ve heard that a lot of people were disappointed with this one and the last installment, but I’m trying not to let that cloud my judgement.

Book #25 of 2014: Divergent

I was a little resistant to read Divergent, only because everyone has had such high praise for it and I was afraid of being let down. People have likened it to The Hunger Games, and after reading it I have to say that I agree. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have obviously seen the reviews so I had a hard time not picturing the actors in my head as I went along through the story.

In the author’s imagined world, society is broken down into five groups: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Amity. On one day each year, all sixteen year olds must take a test which determines their rightful place in the world and then they have to decide whether to follow the test results or break away into a group of their choosing. Beatrice was born into a Abnegation family and has lived by their rules for the past sixteen years, but she can’t help but feel that maybe she truly belongs elsewhere. Her choice will affect not only her, but her family, and even society as a whole.

This was definitely a page-turner. I had a hard time finding stopping points late at night when I knew I had to go to sleep if I had any hope of functioning at work the next day. Often I had to just force myself to stop, and then I would pick it up at lunch the next day or as soon as I got home from work. I thought the premise was original and the storyline unfolded at a good pace. There were a lot of cliffhangers and surprises, some of which were easy to figure out in advance, but that didn’t detract from the overall story. The characters were well written and likable — for the most part.

I enjoyed this book so much that instead of borrowing the sequels from the library, I’m just going to purchase the set. I have been told by various people that the last book is disappointing, but I’m ok with that. This is definitely a series to own.

Book #24 of 2014: Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska is basically the exact same book as Paper Towns, except in a different setting and the characters have different names. That being said, I actually enjoyed this book – until the very end and John Green’s need to ruin a good thing with lots of forced depth and introspection. Also, did we have to read such detailed accounts of the kids smoking every couple of pages? Lame.

Miles “Pudge” Halter decides that he wants to go away to boarding school to find the Great Perhaps. What he actually finds are a roommate nicknamed The Colonel and the completely-unattainable-yet-tragically-flawed girl down the hall, Alaska Young. Of course she has a boyfriend, and of course Pudge falls for her and thinks he may actually have a chance with her. All of the characters are unrealistic in that super-intellectual-beyond-their-years Dawson’s Creek way, except less charming and less likable. Long story short, Alaska dies and Pudge and his friends spend the rest of the book playing detective to try and figure out whether it was an accident or a suicide.

The saving grace was that I felt like I could relate to Alaska – not that I am anything like her, aside from the fact that I understood her guilt and anger and emptiness. That part of her character was very well-written and believable. The rest of her was annoying and snotty and entitled, which I suppose was the author’s attempt to make her more true to life. Sure, she’s gorgeous and everyone likes her, but she’s not perfect. She’s mean and uses people and doesn’t really care about anyone except for herself.

 

Book #23 of 2014: Paper Towns

It has become painfully obvious that I need to post reviews immediately after I read something, because I have already forgotten the entire plot of this book. I had to read a bunch of reviews on Goodreads and BN.com to jog my memory, and even now I am having difficulty separating this one from Looking for Alaska which is the first point I want to make: All John Green novels appear to be exactly the same, except the characters have different names and they take place in different settings. Other than that, the formula appears to be identical: quirky, awkward boy is in love with out-of-his-league girl, characters speak in painfully forced “hip” language, and everyone tries to much too hard to be deep and introspective.

Quentin is in love with Margo Roth Spiegelman (if I never have to read that name again, it will be too soon). Margo couldn’t care less about Q, but still shows up in his bedroom one night and drags him on a night-long adventure so she can get revenge on all of her “friends” who have wronged her at some point. She then disappears and the rest of the book is Q pining for her and setting out on a completely unbelievable road trip to find and rescue her.

I’ve now read all of Green’s work and I still don’t get it. Maybe I’m too old? The kids seem to love him and use words like “life changing” to describe his stories, but I just don’t buy them.

Book #22 of 2014: Where She Went

I read If I Stay by Gayle Forman a few years ago when it came out, and it was OK. I enjoyed the general story, but there was a lot of rambling about music that I just couldn’t get into. I actually forgot most of the story, so I skimmed through the whole book as a refresher before I started Where She Went.

Where She Went continues the story after Mia’s accident and explains the relationship afterward from Adam’s perspective. It’s a few years later and they have completely lost touch. Adam is a famous rock star traveling the world, and Mia is an accomplished cello player. He runs into her one night when he is out wandering around NYC trying to avoid panic attacks related to his upcoming world tour, and they spend the evening into the wee hours reconnecting.

I liked this book slightly more than the first in the series. It was fun to see things from Adam’s point of view, as he is much less whiny and annoying than Mia. Once again there was WAY too much music talk for my taste, so I found myself skimming those parts if they started to drag on too much. I don’t really understand the superfans of these two books, but I suppose everyone is different and has different likes when it comes to books and writing styles. If you read If I Stay, I would recommend reading this one if only to finish the story and get some closure.

Book #21 of 2014: Memoirs of a Geisha

A few weeks ago I ran out of books to read on a Saturday night. I scanned our bookshelf for something new, and I found myself looking at a few of the many books that Christina left to me. The only one that caught my eye was Memoirs of a Geisha – I had heard it was good, and I’ve seen it on many of the “Books You Need to Read in Your Lifetime” lists, so I figured it was worth a shot. Christina loved all things related to Japanese culture, and had even invited me to join her on her trip to Japan back in 2005, but then she had her accident and the trip obviously never happened. I don’t know if she ever read the book, but I know that she would have enjoyed it.

This may be incredibly naive of me, but I genuinely thought this was a non-fiction book. For whatever reason, I assumed it was a true story, and the writing style really didn’t do anything to make me think differently. It’s written as if the geisha is telling the story to the author – she recounts everything from the time she was a small child until the present day. Only when I was about halfway finished did I realize that it was fiction, and to be honest, it did detract a little bit from the overall effect.

Chiyo and her sister were sold when they were very young. Their mother was dying and it seemed as if their father didn’t know what else to do. Maybe he didn’t even realize what he was doing. Chiyo ended up at a geisha house where she worked as a maid and was destined to eventually train to be a geisha. Her sister was even less fortunate, as she was sold to work as a prostitute. They did see each other once or twice, when they planned to run away together. Unfortunately, Chiyo didn’t make it to meet her sister that night.

Even though the story is completely fictional, it’s clear that the author did a huge amount of research into the geisha culture, and it was fascinating to read about. I had always assumed incorrectly that geisha were essentially prostitutes, but that isn’t the case at all. While they do make money by entertaining rich men, and some of them do act as mistresses, sex is not even close to being a primary job responsibility.

I really enjoyed reading about all of the intricacies of not only geisha life, but of the Japanese culture and traditions as well. The story takes place right before, during, and after World War II, and those parts of the book did drag for me a bit. This may make me sound incredibly uneducated, but I am just not into history AT ALL. I found myself skimming through the last third of the book, only because the focus had switched from Chiyo (who at that point was known as Sayuri, since she was a full-fledged geisha) to more of a political/historical slant.

Overall, this was a good book and has definitely earned its place on all of the “must read” lists. It was a mix of light, easy reading with some parts that required a little more concentration and focus. It was full of drama and romance, in a setting entirely different from what I am used to. Highly recommended.

Book #20 of 2014: Have a Little Faith

I picked up this book mostly because I enjoy Mitch Albom’s writing and it was slim pickin’s at the library. I’m definitely more of a fiction fan and I don’t read much non-fiction at all, but as I’m in the middle of a crisis of faith, this book seemed appropriate.

This is a story of two different, but similar, men: Rabbi Albert Lewis and Pastor Henry Covington. The Rabbi asks Mitch Albom to write his eulogy, which prompts many visits and interviews so that Mitch can acquire enough firsthand knowledge to deliver a heartfelt and personal speech when the time comes. The Rabbi shares stories about his past, his marriage, his congregation, and his beliefs about life and death.

Henry Covington had a rough time growing up, and led a life full of violence, drugs, and alcohol. He finally hit rock-bottom and was prompted to clean himself up and do good, which leads him to be the pastor of a small, but faithful, Christian congregation in Detroit. Their church has holes in the roof, no heat, and should probably be knocked down and rebuilt, but none of the churchgoers mind because they are there for the community and the worship rather than the surroundings.

This was a quick read since it’s a pretty short book, and it was enjoyable to read about everyone’s transformations. It wasn’t my favorite, and it didn’t inspire any grand spiritual breakthroughs on my part, but it was a warm and fuzzy story that made me feel good.