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.

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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.

How to Stop Your Basement from Flooding with Sewage, and Other Adventures

So. We got a lot of rain last week. Like, 5 inches worth of rain in less than 24 hours.

A year or so ago, we had a similar rainstorm and it was then that we discovered that when we get a lot of rain, the sewer line backs up into the laundry sink in the basement. Our niece and nephew were sleeping over, and I don’t know what made me check the basement that night, but when I got down there, there was about a half inch of sewer water coating the floor and the laundry sink was completely overflowing with yellowish-brown water. Every time the sump pump under the sink kicked on, it was like a geyser erupted in the laundry sink, the basement bathroom sink, and the washing machine drain pipe. It was horrific, but with the help of my dad and his trusty shop-vac, we got it cleaned up within a few hours.

Last week we were not so lucky. I knew we were supposed to get a bunch of rain, so I was vaguely worried that something bad might happen, but mostly I was concerned about the fact that our furnace had stopped working and it was only about 59 degrees in the house. I scoured Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Target for space heaters, but they’re all gone because “it’s the wrong season.” I got home at about 6:30pm and immediately checked the basement. Dry. Just then the sump pump kicked on and a couple gallons of water were pushed up into the sink. My heart dropped and I called my dad to ask him to bring the shop-vac over. While I was waiting, I started scooping water out of the sink and dumping it into the other sump pump (we have 3!).

I basically spend the next 14 hours emptying buckets of sewer water from the sink into the sump pump every 20-30 minutes. I never thought it would last that long, which is why I sent the hubby to bed at around midnight. I figured he needed his sleep because it’s hard for him to take a day off, but I could finish up and then go to sleep and maybe go into work late. To say that was wishful thinking is the understatement of the century. At about 3:30am, I was completely frustrated and probably a little delirious, so I considered actually just letting the basement flood and selling the house. I persevered and managed to keep all of the dirty water contained to buckets and strategically-placed garbage cans. Until 6:00am when all hell broke loose, that is.

I don’t know what happened, but water just started going everywhere and the basement started to flood. I was screaming and on the verge of tears, so hubby called out of work and then called my dad to see if he could come over and help us. Between the 3 of us (again), we were able to keep it under control and somewhat clean until the nightmare finally ended a little after 1:00pm.

We had a plumber come over and he told us that the sewer line was flooded and there was nothing he could do. We called the town and they said that it’s a trunk line issue and there was nothing they can do. I’ve since talked to another plumber and the town again, and we’re basically left on our own. We’re going to have the plumber come and reconfigure the sump pump so that it stops emptying into the sewer (which is apparently illegal – thanks a LOT, previous owners!), which should alleviate the problem a bit. We also need to see about having a back flow valve installed on our sewer line, if we don’t already have one. At that point, the only other thing we can do is buy a plumber’s test plug (which is essentially a balloon that you inflate in the line to stop water from coming in or out) and use that when and if this happens again. I’m thinking that when we go on vacation we should put the plug in just in case. Not only would it be horrific if this happened while we were away, but I wouldn’t my dad or brother-in-law to have to deal with it if we’re not here.

It’s times like these that I really miss renting.

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.

 

Book #19 of 2014: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Bee Fox is a 15-year-old living in Seattle with her Microsoft genius father and her more than slightly unstable former-architect mother. Bee just received her report card and because she got all As at her prestigious prep school, she’s ready to claim the reward her parents promised her: a cruise to Antarctica. Only days before the trip, Bee’s mother, Bernadette, goes missing and no one even knows where to begin looking for her.

The writing style in this book is unlike any I’ve ever come across before. It’s told from past to present in the form of emails, random notes, letters, and articles all written by various characters. I wasn’t expecting this, and at first it took some getting used to until I was really able to follow the plot, but WOW. Once it gets going, it’s such a fun read!

Bernadette is quite a character and she only gets more and more interesting as the story develops. I saw a lot of myself in her, which is kind of unnerving because she has a huge amount of mental issues. Of course, she’s anti-social and eccentric to the extreme of endangering other people’s lives, and I am obviously not nearly that insane.

The whole Antarctic cruise thing really threw me at first because it seemed so random and out there, but after awhile I got used to it and it really seemed to fit in with the rest of the book. I really cannot recommend this one highly enough. It’s a nice, quick read, although it does take a bit of focus to keep all of the characters and plot lines straight. If you can manage that (I was on the verge of making a cheat sheet), you’ll be rewarded with a really original and well-thought out story.

Book #18 of 2014: Margot

Everyone has read The Diary of Anne Frank, right? It’s required reading in pretty much every school. I read it in high school and have seen the movie a few times. It’s one of those books that is so good, but you hesitate to say it’s good because of the subject matter–like you feel a little guilty for liking it, not only because it’s a terrible story, but because it’s a true story.

Margot is a novel about Anne Frank’s older sister, Margot, and how she dealt with life after the war, pretending that she survived the concentration camp and made it to America to live her new life. She is working as a legal secretary in Philadelphia where no one has a clue who she really is. It’s right around the time that Diary was made into a movie, so everyone is talking about it and “Margie Franklin” has quite a difficult time dealing with the emotions surrounding having to not only hide her true identity, but also to see her sister and her family portrayed in a way that is not entirely accurate. On top of all that, she is in love with her boss who is engaged to another woman AND she still has feelings for Peter–who was really in love with HER, and not Anne.

This was a page-turner for me during the first several chapters. I had a hard time putting it down so I could go to sleep because I was waiting for Margie to either reveal herself or get found out, and at the same time I was rooting for her to win over Joshua AND to find Peter alive somewhere. Towards the middle, the book slowed down and I admit to skimming some of the pages because it started to drag. I think there was a lot that could have been omitted without doing any damage to the plot or the overall effect of the story. I appreciated the ending and thought that the whole story was very imaginative and well done.

I often found myself having to remember that I was reading a work of fiction. Margot Frank did not survive the concentration camp. She did not make it to Philadelphia. At times it felt wrong to be reading something false about a real person, especially one who had suffered so much in her short life. On the other hand, I enjoyed the fact that it got me thinking about Margot and what her story must have been like. She kept a diary, just like Anne did, but we’ve never had a chance to read her innermost thoughts and opinions. This book opened my mind and made me wonder what her experience in the annex must have been like and how she dealt with having to hide there.