Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Girl You Left Behind

This is by far one of my favorite books as of late. I bought it as whim, expecting nothing. I may be biased for that reason, because of how pleasantly surprised I was.

In a hotel in a small French town, sisters Sophie and Helene struggle to make a living while their husbands are at war. Protecting their children, brother and home becomes a daily struggle. Sophie is the center of the story, being the most clever and strong willed. She reflects back on her life as the wife of a skilled painter.

A portrait of Sophie, from what feels like a different world, is hung prominently in the hotel. World War I German soldiers occupy their town and eventually the hotel. The head of the German army becomes infatuated with her painting, and in some ways Sophie. The story stops short at the peak of conflict. Sophie is tested on far she is willing to go for her loved ones, and her beliefs.

Flash forward a hundred some years, and Sophie's painting lands in an English widow's possession. Olivia, or Liv, is unknowingly harboring this complex piece of art. In a vulnerable state, Liv is trying to find herself. Eventually Sophie's story becomes the key to Liv picking up the pieces of her own life.

That being said, I really could do without the flash forward. The story of Liv is much less interesting, and so much more fluffy. Yes, it adds a layer of suspense and depth to the story, but being thrown from such a beautifully written story to a Danielle Steel novel is a little jarring. It's not bad, it just has its fair share of painfully cliche plot lines.

Overall, I really liked this book. In terms of thought experiment, it's such a mind blower. I identify with Sophie in so many ways. When it comes to bravery, I don't think that we are equal at all. But when she speaks of her husband, their life before and after the war, I can relate.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

She's Come Undone

First off, I never apologize. So don’t mistake this as me owning up to anything I might have done. Ever. But, I will acknowledge the recent hiatus. Sorry, not sorry. I’ve read some interesting books these last weeks, that have deserved adequate posts. A little bit of writer's block and two weeks later, my writing has finally seemed to catch up to my reading.

Wally Lamb wrote my favorite book, I Know This Much is True. It is full of subplots and follows a journey that's ending is dramatically different from it's beginning. The adventure is disjointed and a times feels psychotic. She's Come Undone did not let me down as a follow up.

There is a person you know whose life is far from perfect. No matter what they do, their existence seems like a slew of bad decisions and bad luck. Dolores is that person. Throughout the telling of her tragic and complicated life, I feel conflicted. There are some things that are clearly not her fault. Her dad is a sexual deviant and wife beater. Her mom goes in and out of depression in a way that Dolores’ young mind can’t comprehend. A heartbreaking run-in with a deranged neighbor opens up a world of mental unease.

On the other hand, Dolores isn't the most likable character. She's a stalker, self-conscious yet in a way overconfident. She cares too much and too little. The people who care for her she spurns and writes off. She seems smart but holds back everything sensible she thinks. It's utterly frustrating.

From the outside, it’s always easier to say that someone else made a bad choice. On the same thread, it’s easy to say your downfalls are not your fault. "Locus of control" ‘n shit. Dolores was dealt a bad hand. She also does not make good decisions.

When she finally comes undone, it’s relieving. I hadn’t realized how tense I had been until that point. The lies, the pain and the stifling self control caused a sort of anxiety, like watching a train wreck. It is the one point where I actually like the main character.

Ultimately I feel this book is a great thought experiment. I don't identify with anything that Dolores does. I don't understand it and many times I hate it.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

And Zombies

Part II to my latest post, is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If you haven't read the last post or if you haven't read Pride and Prejudice yourself, this won't make a lot of sense. Enjoy!

Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia, Kitty and Mary are still the same characters they have always been. Jane is beautiful, Lizzy is smart, Lydia and Kitty are foolish and flirtatious, and Mary struggles to find herself. The predominant difference is that they are all trained to be zombie killing ninjas. Replace knowing how to play the piano or sing with hard core combat skills, and that sums up the book. Where Elizabeth is asked to play piano, she's now asked to demonstrate her ability to take on warriors.

What I have to admire about this book is how creative and inventive it is, without destroying the integrity of the original story. Charlotte, in the original book, gets married because she is 27 (ancient) and has no other options. Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, gets married because she is stricken by the plague and had only a few months to live. Yes, the details are extremely different, but on the whole the emotion and plot stays the same.

To contrast however, there is a certain mismatched logic to the book. I get it. Zombies aren't real. In terms of immersion, it's pretty obscure that all of the daughters were trained in China. Or that the families were not racist towards the people of China. Let's be real it's the 18th century.

But, I didn't need this book to make perfect sense. I wanted to be able to read Pride and Prejudice again without reading the exact same book. It was clever, fun and I'm now convinced that I need to read Sense and Sensability, and follow it up with a few sea monsters.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pride and Prejudice

As we speak, this movie is playing on TV. It, in every way, lives up to what I pictured the book to be. Keira Knightly? Yes. Scandalous 18th century dresses? It's Victorian-esque heaven. But let's get to the topic at hand.

Pride and Prejudice is a book about five daughters at that "marrying age". They love attending balls and giving their dad heart attacks. Elizabeth, the second oldest daughter, is the focus of the story. She is wickedly smart, caring towards her family and only exceeded in beauty by her older sister Jane. 

A young pair of fellows mosey into town and their family is in an uproar. When Elizabeth attends her first ball with the new aquaintances, things don't go quite according to plan. There's a reason that the book was originally titled "First Impressions".

I have a special place in my heart for this book. There are a lot of powerful lessons about love and what it means to be in a relationship. Some hard truths, some inspiring "power of love" messages. There's depth to the plot, without being overly complicated. It didn't feel campy. I was thrown off and tricked more than a few times. However, I'm not saying it's not a little predictable at times. Jane Austen still seems like she would be the present day Stephenie Meyer to me.

If you like Wuthering Heights or Little Women, try out Pride and Prejudice. I would say it's much more similar to the latter, but I'm reminded of the former because of all the classist talk. It recreates a similar story of being reproached because of status. But, there's a lot less death. And heart break. And revenge. You know what, come to think of it, I should probably post about Wuthering Heights soon.

I have an ulterior  motive for this post. I have always wanted to re-read this book, but never really had a reason. Then came along a perfectly hilarious parody, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I'm half way through and lovin' it. New post next week!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Silent Wife

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Stay with me while I discuss this soap opera of a story. Jodi and Todd are a happy couple on the outside. Jodi is beautiful, caring and insanely good at being a homemaker. Todd is a successful business man with a great reputation. In the beginning, it seems like a healthy relationship. The Silent Wife, however, affirms that only the people in a relationship, really know the relationship.

Todd is a cheating son-of-a-bitch. He lives in a world without consequences, where he can take whatever he wants. It's so well written that it feels real, like Todd actually exists. The details of his slimy escapades are genuine in the way that his feelings are complex. On the one hand, he wants the stability of a life-long partner. On the other, he wants to sleep with half of Chicago's population. It makes my skin crawl.

Jodi is all about the front. Even with her own husband she doesn't let her guard down. As he cheats, as he carries on with his lousy lifestyle, she stays quiet. Not just quiet, but seemingly unchanged. She takes care of him just the same. She talks about her small revenge, like hiding Todd's keys or 'accidentally' destroying his phone. But nothing she feels or is experiencing is ever said out loud. She believes that if you don't talk about it, it doesn't have to be real.

So, the book is about this couple crumbling in a very dramatic series of events. Their faults and motives become exposed, people are betrayed, bitches be crazy, etc.. I would say more about the plot, but the thrill is in not knowing.

This book holds true my opinion that books open up our minds to ideas that we may never have explored before. I would be devastated if my husband cheated on me. Every once in a while I have bad dreams where Andrew cheats on me with another girl. Or an airplane. Or a sandwich (don't think about it too long, dreams don't make sense). I have a hard time recovering from them, and sometimes get mad at my real husband for my dream husband's transgressions (just before regaining consciousness).

But, Jodi wouldn't care. She doesn't care. She can't care. It's definitely a different way of thinking from what I'm used to, and I think I learned from it. No, I am not saying it made me okay with cheating. But, it's an interesting idea to me that someone could be okay. That, maybe, there is a certain amount of mistakes or issues that would tremendously bother me, but not others. I mean, it's obvious. But really getting immersed in a book where you're only seeing it from one person's point of view can be a whole different kind of education.

So, I endorse it. It's a thrilling read and will make you think. I highly recommend it for anyone at the cusp of a serious relationship. It's a perfect lesson on what NOT to do.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


I’ve been sipping the Kool-Aid lately, I know. Remember when I said I gravitate towards certain books? Well, Divergent is one of them. I understand that it manipulates the reader with unrealistic and dramatic events. I get it. I understand it, admonish it, but read it just the same. If you find yourself with the same plight, pick it up.

Beatrice lives in a Utopian/Dystopian society where the population is divided by values. There are five groups or “factions” to be divided by, that stand for the values the name represents. Abnegation believes in selflessness, Dauntless is based on courage, Erudite favors knowledge, Amity focuses on peace and Candor is for the honest. At the age of sixteen, a young adult will choose to stay in their group, or switch to another. We join Beatrice at the cusp of her sixteenth birthday.

At the last moment, Beatrice decides to be brave, and chooses to switch factions. Beatrice or “Tris”, as she renames herself, deals with the loss of innocence and family ties as well as the growth of new relationships. Who can’t relate to that? She goes from humble, selfless and reserved, to someone who can finally indulge in what’s been missing in her life.

Can I say that this is a girly book- without sounding too gender normative? The Divergent series is clearly meant to hit a note with the self-conscious, everyday girl who wants to find her inner bad ass. I started to get Mulan/Pocahontas vibes. It reminds me of the handful of books I’ve talked about recently: Hunger Games, Twilight, Matched. It ranks up there, but has a different kind of intensity.

My least favorite part of the book is that she gets turned into a victim. Disclaimer: of course females can be victimized, it happens every day. I’m not saying I’m annoyed that she is a victim. I’m annoyed that it feels like it is being used to make her seem special. I’m not down with that kind of writing. Using something as serious as verbal and physical abuse for a cheap vehicle for entertainment is gross. So, as brief as it is, I’d do without that part.

But, there are plenty of inspiring moments to counteract the bad. One thing I like is that Tris’ strength doesn’t somehow magically appear. She is not physically able to beat the crap out of a 250lb man, and I’m appreciative that her limitations are vaguely realistic. She has moments of fabricated self-consciousness and coy unrecognized strength, which makes me gag. But, for the most part, her emotions feel genuine. She becomes vain, greedy and angry. She has moments of overconfidence, and gets knocked down for being too cocky.

Although it’s a ‘fluffy’ book, it has some brief moments of wisdom. Messages like ‘people who crave power and get it, live in constant fear of losing it’ are pretty deep. Even though the whole ‘faction’ thing is overdone and somewhat unrealistically laid out, it’s an interesting thought. What would I be? No clue. I’m pretty sure everyone wants to pretend like they’d be in Dauntless (Gryffindor in disguise). But, I’d most likely be in Erudite. I’m not selfless, honest or peaceful, but I sure hate idiots.

It’s an easy 500 page read, if you’re into that kinda thing. I’ll be getting in some serious reading over the holidays, so get excited!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dead Man's Mirror

I'll write a quick post for a very quick book. After a lot of serious reading, I decided to start on the less-than-scholarly trilogy Divergent. It is not a quick book. The first of the trilogy is 500+ pages. Of course, I'm almost all the way through it after 4 days because I'm a trashy novel shredder. Well, just before embarking on this journey, I decided to indulge in another Agatha Christie murder mystery.

I am not a fan of Sherlock Holmes novels. I find the character overly dramatic and I get bored very easily at the pompous dialogue. I think Dead Man's Mirror is Sherlock Holmes without the BS. Short, punchy and without fluff. Who done it?

The premiss: someone is meddling with Mr. Gervase Chevenix-Gore's business (clearly wealthy- did you see his name?). He sends detective M. Hercule Poirot to get to the bottom of it. But when Mr. Poirot arrives at the scene, it's too late for him to protect Gervase's wealth. BECAUSE HE'S DEAD. Get it? He's the dead man in the story!

There are many motives for murder at play. Many clues and testimonies to sift through. I don't like how Sherlock Holmes always has a twist ending that you would have never have been able to guess. But, with this, I don't mind.

A quick read that I recommend for any reading slump. It definitely was a momentum book that helped me take on a new challenge. Stay tuned for that and more next week!