I'm torn because this was a good read and the writing was often beautiful, but there were a lot of things about this book that just didn't work for meI'm torn because this was a good read and the writing was often beautiful, but there were a lot of things about this book that just didn't work for me. I was bored with some of the characters, and there were a lot of them, making it hard to keep all of them straight. Some of the characters seemed like they would play a bigger role in the story, but then you don't see them again for a long time. The verb tense switches inexplicably between past and present. The frequent sentence fragments seemed like half-formed thoughts and started to get on my nerves. Questions are raised that are never answered, (view spoiler)[like how Kirsten got her scar and what happened during her lost year (hide spoiler)].
The basic premise that many of the characters are acquainted or loosely connected before a flu pandemic wipes out 99.9% of the population, and then their stories converge 20 years later seems way too convenient and implausible. Some small inconsistencies or details just didn't make sense, like how would one of the characters travel on foot with a baby and a cello? Plus, the ending seemed a little unfinished and anti-climatic. The post-apocalyptic setting is interesting, but it didn't seem realistic to me that after 20 years, people wouldn't find a way to put put technology to use again (solar panels are mentioned only once) or would still be living in makeshift shelters and gas stations when there are abandoned houses everywhere.
An interesting read, but overall a bit of a letdown and could have been far better. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I have to admit I’m a little surprised that this was named best book of the year by Amazon. There were some thing about this book that were very wellI have to admit I’m a little surprised that this was named best book of the year by Amazon. There were some thing about this book that were very well done, but it was not without flaws.
I felt that the writing itself was just okay. When I pick up something that has been named best book of the year, I expect to be marveled at the author’s use of the English language. I expect to be stopped in my tracks while reading because of a particularly evocative image. There weren’t any moments like that in this book for me. The writing is actually very plain, and I felt that some of the descriptions didn’t add anything to the story.
It also seemed like perhaps it could have gone a bit deeper. The ending seemed a bit too convenient and it just felt unfinished.
What I did enjoy was the multi-faceted characters, whose motivations were clearly revealed to the reader and yet so tragically misunderstood by the other characters. This book is a heartbreaking examples of how lingering misapprehensions and unspoken desires can tear a family apart. ...more
I bought this book because I was drunk and wandering around a bookstore and really wanted to buy something, and everything I wanted was still in hardcI bought this book because I was drunk and wandering around a bookstore and really wanted to buy something, and everything I wanted was still in hardcover and I didn’t want to pay the $30. So I seized upon a paperback copy of The Luminaries, even though I knew little about it other than what was written on the back cover and that it had won the Man Booker award, which made it a Very Important Book. Historical fiction isn’t usually my thing, but I decided to give it a shot.
Although the book is excellent, I’m giving it only 4 stars, for a few reasons: 1) it’s so freaking long, 2) I felt that there were some things left hanging, and 3) the novel seems a bit too concerned with being clever and with following its astrologically based structure.
The book is an undeniably impressive literary accomplishment -- intelligent, experimental, beautifully written, and intricately plotted. The first third or so was the most difficult to get through for me, as many characters are introduced and it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who everyone is and what’s going on. A reviewer on Goodreads pointed out that each part of the novel is exactly half the length of the part that came before it, mirroring the phases of the moon. I’m not sure most readers would pick up on this -- I certainly didn’t -- although the diminishing chapter lengths are clearly evident, and a bit distracting, towards the end. This structure makes for a very long Part One and a very long first chapter, but if you can make it past these, things start to pick up.
The first half of the book consists almost entirely of one-on-one conversations between 12 characters, each of whom embodies a different star sign, as these characters offer their understandings of several mysterious events that have recently occurred. It isn’t necessary to understand all of the astrological elements in order to appreciate the story, but it may help. It may also prove helpful to take notes on the histories of the various characters, because I often found myself flipping back to refresh my memory. One thing that I did particularly appreciate was the excellent characterization -- despite the vast number of characters, I felt that Catton provided very clear psychological profiles and physical characteristics of each one. Again, researching their associated star signs may provide even further insight into the motives and role of each character.
I do think the book could have been about 200 pages shorter. Most of the final short chapters simply review or restate something that has previously been revealed (reinforcing the book’s theme that everything comes full-circle). I was actually surprised when I realized I was on the last chapter because it didn’t feel like I had arrived at any major resolution. I also thought the heavy emphasis on astrology was odd for a book in which only one of the characters (Lydia Wells) expresses any overt interest in horoscopes or divination.
I’m glad I didn’t abandon this book, as I almost did. I think the intricate plot, interesting characters, and the many hidden connections between them would make for an excellent TV miniseries, which apparently is in the works....more
Ugh, this book. I’m giving it two stars because it wasn’t great, and there were a lot of things about it that bugged me, but it wasn’t awful. It justUgh, this book. I’m giving it two stars because it wasn’t great, and there were a lot of things about it that bugged me, but it wasn’t awful. It just could have been a lot better.
I don’t understand why so many reviewers said it is well written. It has a few nice moments here and there, especially more towards the end, but these are overshadowed by excessive and often strange description. This book is full of sentences like:
“Mrs. Vanni nodded, her chin moving slowly up, then down.” (page 37)
“Headlights turned from the main road into our driveway. I waited to see if they would veer in the direction of the Pritchards’, but they held steady, and I hooked my hands around my knees.” (page 180)
“He (the dog) lumbered down, exerting great effort and grunting as his front paws made contact with the ground, letting his hind legs follow.” (page 196)
This is in addition to all of the times a character rests an elbow on a knee, or a chin in a hand, or a hand on a chin.
The author seems to be taking the “show, don’t tell” adage to the extreme. As if she has to describe every little thing a character does for us to understand what’s happening in the scene. Well, you don’t. Give readers some credit. We can picture a hand on a chin or a dog lumbering out of a car or a woman nodding. All these descriptions do is distract from the story and slow down its pace, which is already a bit lacking. And I’m not even sure what hooking one’s hands around one’s knees is supposed to signify. There’s even a sex scene that contains the sentence “I closed my eyes and lifted my chin and opened my mouth.” Umm, okay. That description doesn’t exactly depict someone in the throes of ecstasy.
As for the story, there’s not much happening here. There are some thefts in the neighborhood, the narrator’s brother gets beat up, and there’s a love interest. There’s not a lot of dramatic tension. The story and the characters didn’t stick with me. I didn’t have the feeling that I do with good books, when I can’t wait to get back to that world and find out what happens next. I only kept reading because I wanted to be done with it. There is at least one scene that doesn’t add anything to the story as a whole, and some topics introduced that go nowhere — like the kid’s dad. There’s all this talk about the kid’s dad wanting to take her for Christmas, but then the subject is just forgotten. Also some comments towards the end that didn’t make sense, which made me think an earlier scene had been cut out of the book. The ending is rather anti-climactic, and the the resolution is all summed up a bit too conveniently.
It also bothered me that the author changed the point of view. The chapters focusing on Jenna are written in first person, and the chapters focusing on her mother are written in third person. This just struck me as lazy. If you’re going to have chapters that alternate between different characters, take the time to give them each a distinct voice.
Not recommended. Just didn’t do anything for me. ...more
Just 39 pages in and I may have to abandon this one. The way she jumps around in time is getting annoying. When she says "later that evening," she couJust 39 pages in and I may have to abandon this one. The way she jumps around in time is getting annoying. When she says "later that evening," she could be talking about her time at the monastery, or a flashback, or a different flashback, or sometimes a flash forward. And the whole setup of "this is what I leaned from the monks today" seems pretty forced. If you're interested in a collection of reflections on Buddhism, you might like this book, but there is no real narrative here. We know next to nothing about the author other than random little anecdotes that she uses to illustrate her points, but everything feels very disconnected. All we really know is that she came to the monastery after the death of her father. I feel like this had the makings of a great memoir but just doesn't get there. ...more
I received an advance readers’ edition of Sway through Goodreads First Reads.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I was really excited to read SwayI received an advance readers’ edition of Sway through Goodreads First Reads.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I was really excited to read Sway after seeing some of the positive reviews on Goodreads, and it does a few things right, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
A quick overview of the positives and negatives:
Pros: Good character development, satisfying ending, and overall somewhat heartwarming without being cheesy.
Cons: Average writing, lack of dramatic tension, too many characters, extraneous scenes that don’t add to the story, narrative voice that is often unconvincing.
Jesse’s character development is really the focus of story. Even though it’s presented as a romance -- and yes, there is an element of romance to it -- the love story isn’t the primary focus. Jesse is an interesting and complex character, and Spears does a good job -- for the most part -- of revealing his hangups and his motives without spending too much time in the realm of interior monologue. I don’t believe, as some reviewers have said, that he is just a selfish jerk. Yes, he’s deceptive and manipulative. Yes, he knows how to play others to get what he wants from them. But as much as he tries to maintain that he doesn’t care about anyone, he clearly does. His relationships with Bridget and with his friend Pete allow him to start to soften, but this transformation is gradual and incomplete (which is a good thing). By the end of the book, Jesse has made some progress, but he still has some work to do, which made his progression believable.
However, the book falters in a few other key areas.
The writing is okay. It’s not bad but it’s not particularly noteworthy. I didn’t always find Jesse’s voice convincing. More than once, I was very aware that I was reading a book written by mom trying to sound like a teenage boy. On one hand, I want to say that the writing is adequate for a YA novel, but just because the intended audience is younger, that doesn’t mean the writing can’t be more sophisticated.
My main issue with the book is that there are a LOT of characters and a lot of scenes that don’t really connect to each other. I was really hoping that these would all come together in some big amazing climax where Jesse has to call on all his various connections to help solve a problem, but that didn’t really happen. The ending, aside from the love story element, was kind of flat. Some of the minor characters -- some of whom appear in only one or two scenes -- could have been eliminated or perhaps consolidated to tighten up the narrative. Some scenes are included solely to set up something later, and don’t flow into the narrative at all. One subplot in particular, in which Jesse cashes in a favor to benefit someone he hardly knows, was not believable and didn’t really add to the story.
I also think it’s somewhat misleading that the story is billed as a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac because again, the love story is only one part of the overall plot, and the character of Bridget isn’t even in the book as much as you might expect.
Overall impression: decent debut novel that is worth a read, but not exactly groundbreaking
Recommended for: older high school students due to drug use and sexual content...more
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a rare book that is both funny and smart, and whose characters are quirky but still believable. I loved the hints that SWhere’d You Go, Bernadette is a rare book that is both funny and smart, and whose characters are quirky but still believable. I loved the hints that Semple placed throughout that revealed just how out of touch with reality some of the characters were, as things slowly built to all-out insanity. Her sendups of Seattle private school “Mercedes parents,” Microsoft culture, and victim mentality are hilarious. This is a fast read and great for reading on the beach or when you want something fun and entertaining, but not too fluffy.
My only criticism is that some of the email exchanges were very detailed and not really realistic, and the characters don’t really have distinctive voices, but it’s a satire, so I suppose I can overlook some of that. And I got confused by some of the particulars at the end. (view spoiler)[ Bernadette’s letter to Bee was far more than 3 pages, and it did not end with “love, mom” as the forensic document examiner reported. Nor did it contain many of the other phrases listed by the forensic examiner, so I wasn’t sure if I missed something there. Also, if Bernadette wrote the letter from Palmer Station, how did the pad of paper end up back on the Allegra? (hide spoiler)] Also at one point, some of the characters start sending faxes to each other, which seemed odd, and the sender of first fax writes, “I hope this finds you well in Arizona. (Utah? New Mexico?)” But if she doesn’t know where the recipient is … where did she get the fax number? The area code on the fax number would tell her where she is. Just a few minor transgressions in a book that is overall satisfying. ["br"]>["br"]>...more
There are a lot of things about this book that were really good, and a lot of things that were a shocking disappointment. Most of these disappointmentThere are a lot of things about this book that were really good, and a lot of things that were a shocking disappointment. Most of these disappointments were delivered via the Molly storyline, which is so inferior to the Vivian storyline in so many ways, it almost seems like it was written by a different author. In fact, I would even go so far as to wager that the Molly storyline was added in a later draft as an afterthought or at the suggestion of an editor to give the book more substance. I don’t know if that’s the case, but I found the Molly chapters to be poorly written, full of one-dimensional characters, and actually kind of boring.
First, the positives. Some of the prose in the Vivian chapters is lovely and evocative. The orphan train history was very interesting and seemed to be well researched. Niamh / Dorothy / Vivian was an interesting character, and the story was well paced and kept me engaged.
Unfortunately I can’t go above a 3-star rating because of the many flaws of this book, particularly in the Molly chapters.
The writing: The writing was often so elementary that I had to stop and check to see if I were reading a YA book. (As far as I can tell, the book is intended for an adult audience.) There is a lot of unnecessary description that doesn’t add to the story, as well as a lot of info dumping that breaks the “show don’t tell” cardinal rule of writing. And some things that are just plain odd, like a description of a laptop towards the end, which I can’t quote because I gave away my copy of the book, but I think pretty much everyone knows what a laptop looks like. Also, much of the dialogue between the teenage characters did not ring true to me.
It also bugged me that Vivian's story was told in the first person but Molly's was told in the third person. I guess Vivian's storyline is supposed to be the story of her life that she tells Molly, but we don't even know about this until well into the book, so switching the POV seemed odd.
The characters: many of them were one-dimensional and stereotypical. The bitchy foster mom who watches reality TV and thinks vegetarians are weird. The former beauty queen who got pregnant and became a housekeeper. The boyfriend who really has no personality whatsoever. And of course Molly herself, a supposed juvenile delinquent who has actually done nothing worse than get a nose ring (gasp!) and try to steal a copy of Jane Eyre from the library (the horror!)
The plot: The entire premise was weak as well. I was never really clear on how Molly’s behavior was supposed to land her in juvenile detention, or how cleaning out Vivian’s attic counted as community service. But have no fear, because everything works out perfectly for everyone in the end, and of course Molly is really a misunderstood teenager with a heart of gold. Also all the talk about how she was so eager to shed her piercings and her Goth persona was a bit heavy handed and judgmental. And how did Molly, who had practically no possessions to her name, own a smartphone and a laptop? Also, for a book called Orphan Train, I figured it would include more of the actual history of the orphan trains, but that part of the story is actual over in the first few chapters. And, there are so many parallels between the two characters’ stories that a couple of times I got confused who she was even talking about. If that wasn’t bad enough, she actually repeats some of the same sentences word for word, first in the Vivian story and later in the Molly story.
Interesting topic but could have been much better. ...more
Five days after graduating from Yale, with a job waiting for her at the New Yorker, Marina Keegan was killed in a car crash when her boyfriend fell asFive days after graduating from Yale, with a job waiting for her at the New Yorker, Marina Keegan was killed in a car crash when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel. This posthumous collection of stories and essays, compiled by her family and professors, showcases some of her best writing as an undergrad.
Keegan's writing is often elegant and poignant. She was unflinchingly self-aware, and she embraced her role as a millennial seeking to find her place in the world. If her writing sometimes reveals an idealistic naiveté, it can perhaps be excused by her hopefulness and authenticity. It is a shame that we will never get to see what she might have been capable of as she matured.
My only criticism is that she sometimes seemed to try too hard to be poetic or profound. (This opinion may in part have been shaped by the fact that I was simultaneously reading Alice Munro, whose writing is profound without being the least bit florid.) Sometimes she didn't use a word quite right. Other times, a sentence was so obscure that I really had no idea what she meant by it. But these were small hiccups in a book that was mostly lovely and evocative. The final short story, "Challenger Deep," is particularly haunting. I also enjoyed her essay "Against the Grain," about growing up with Celiac disease before going gluten-free was trendy....more
I loved this book! Jen Sincero is the real deal; don't let her sometimes flippant tone fool you. I've read a lot of the same books that she read beforI loved this book! Jen Sincero is the real deal; don't let her sometimes flippant tone fool you. I've read a lot of the same books that she read before she wrote this; she's done her research and she knows what she's talking about.
If you think that new agey books on subjects like the law of attraction are too woo-woo or fruity for you, read this book. Sincero has read Esther Hicks, Eckhart Tolle, Don Miguel Ruiz, and a host of other spiritual thought leaders so that you don't have to -- although by the time you finish this book, you may want to. If you have read these types of self-help books, you might not find anything new here, but you will find lots of great reminders presented in a no-nonsense, straightforward style. And the personal anecdotes she sprinkles throughout strike just the right tone -- funny, relatable, not too self indulgent.
Not recommended for: People who are offended by a little profanity (but you shouldn't be surprised really by the language when "badass" is right there in the title). ...more
This was my first time reading Alice Munro, and I was not disappointed. What's remarkable about her stories is the way she conveys such breadth and deThis was my first time reading Alice Munro, and I was not disappointed. What's remarkable about her stories is the way she conveys such breadth and depth of human emotion with so few words. These slices of daily life somehow manage to reveal volumes through the things left unsaid. Munro deftly tackles weighty subjects such as death, love, loss, and guilt, illuminating the small moments that have the power to change a person's life forever. ...more