I have now read all three David Nicholls' novels, in reverse order from that in which they were written. The one constant which has been present from...moreI have now read all three David Nicholls' novels, in reverse order from that in which they were written. The one constant which has been present from the start is an underlying sweetness to his characters, even when they're behaving badly.
Brian Jackson is the goofy kid we all knew (or were) trying to make his way through his first year of college. Despite all his good intentions, and his ill-conceived attempts to become cool (or perhaps because of them), he still manages to offend and anger everyone who cares about him.
Mr. Nicholls makes us alternately laugh and wince as we watch Brian try to overcome his social awkwardness and woo the pretty girl who everyone knows is out of his league. Everyone, that is, except Brian. As painful as it is to watch, you find you just have to know what happens next. And just when you think poor, hapless Brian's situation couldn't possibly get any worse, it does. But he comes through it, hopefully having learned some valuable life lessons along the way.
There isn't anything deep or earth-shattering about this book. It's just a pleasant way to spend a few hours and reminisce about the follies of our own youth. Plus there's the fact that Mr. Nicholls has wonderful taste in music! For nearly every song he mentioned, I mentally cried out, "I love that song!"(less)
While I was reading this book, I was constantly struck by the fact that I was absolutely hating it. Several times I was tempted to abandon it. The cha...moreWhile I was reading this book, I was constantly struck by the fact that I was absolutely hating it. Several times I was tempted to abandon it. The characters were among the most despicable I have ever read: young and middle aged people being immature and self-absorbed, completely oblivious to the pain they cause to everyone around them, particularly those who love them. The few worthwhile, or rather not loathsome, characters that were introduced were fodder for the central characters.
However, I stuck with the book, and something happened toward in the last few chapters. I don't know if the characters grew on me, or if it was the way Ms. Egan had them mature and find some redemption in the end. All I know is that at the moment I finished the book, I no longer hated it. Sasha and Bennie grew and changed, and although I still find their behavior throughout most of the novel absolutely reprehensible, I was unable to work up the same level of dislike for them at the end.
While I disliked the characters, I can find no flaw in Ms. Egan's style. Even while I was hating the story, I found her prose to flow easily and I couldn't help wondering what it would have been like if she had written characters I actually cared about.
I still can't quite say that I liked the book. However, I didn't hate it. (less)
This is probably the saddest book I have ever read. I was so disappointed not only with the sad ending, but with the utter lack of hope. I don't mind...moreThis is probably the saddest book I have ever read. I was so disappointed not only with the sad ending, but with the utter lack of hope. I don't mind books with sad endings, but at least offer me some gleam of hope at the end! I was going to give it a 3-star rating for being such a downer, but it is too beautifully written to warrant 3 stars. So 4 stars for beautiful prose.(less)
Despite its 406 pages, this was a quick and fun read. The dialogue is very witty. My family must have thought I was losing my mind because I kept laug...moreDespite its 406 pages, this was a quick and fun read. The dialogue is very witty. My family must have thought I was losing my mind because I kept laughing out loud. And despite the seeming light tone of the book, there is something deeper too, if you care to dig. It’s a coming of age story, not in the traditional sense of transitioning from youth to adulthood, but in suddenly realizing that you’re in the middle of your adult life, but you have yet to live an adult’s life. Imagine finding a somewhat comfortable place, becoming complacent with it, and waking up one day to find that in your complacency, you completely forgot to look for what you really wanted. And with your life nearly half over, you wonder if you still have time to fix it. The lesson here is that you can’t just sit around and wait for life to happen to you; you have to go and make it happen. And Juliet, Naked manages to convey this message in a way that is not the least bit maudlin. Quite the contrary, it does it in a funny, lighthearted way.
**spoiler alert** I don't know what to say about this book. It's been a week since I finished it, and I can't stop stewing about it. It started off in...more**spoiler alert** I don't know what to say about this book. It's been a week since I finished it, and I can't stop stewing about it. It started off interesting enough, but I was initially afraid that as Lucy's circumstances changed, the most interesting part and characters of the story were left behind in Bretton, leaving me with the hope that the frequently used device of coincidence would bring them back into Lucy's life. The book got exceedingly slow once Lucy settled into her life in Villette, and the pace did not really pick up until about 2/3 of the way through. There were a few moments before then where I found the book unputdownable, but I could tell the story would not unfold the way I wanted it to, so these bits of the story always felt anti-climactic. Specifically, I refer to how Lucy seemed to hope more than friendship from Dr. John.
It wasn't until M. Emmanuel's odd behavior toward Lucy became more frequent that I felt the story really got going. Oh, the sparks that would have ignited between the two if Lucy had had any of Jane Eyre's fire! I admire the skill with which Ms. Bronte introduced us to repulsive men, and leaving the readers (the female ones at least) head over heels in love with them at the end.
I just don't know what to make of the ending, though. I am a sappy, romantic optimist by nature, so when Ms. Bronte said "to leave sunny imaginations hope . . . . conceive . . . the fruition of return . . . . picture union and a happy succeeding life," that's exactly what I did. It wasn't until I started reading other reviews that I realized I might have misread it. After overcoming the machinations of the "secret junta" and waiting three years, to know Lucy would never get her happily ever after with Paul is just to cruel to fathom!
It was like reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles all over again: being brought on this beautiful journey only to have all hope wrenched away.
I've seen many comment that Ms. Bronte's constant censure of Catholicism detracts from the story. I'm Catholic, and this did not bother me nearly as much as the constant use of French. Entire conversations were conducted in French, and if there hadn't been notes in the back of the book providing translations, it would have severely impacted my ability to enjoy the book. My copy of The Professor did not have translations for the French contained therein, and my reading of that short tome was slowed considerably by having to Google the translations. It's quite challenging trying to hold a book open with one hand while trying to type text in a foreign language with the other.(less)
I can't believe I never gave this book a chance before! Great Expectations is easily one of the most beautiful works of literature I have ever read. A...moreI can't believe I never gave this book a chance before! Great Expectations is easily one of the most beautiful works of literature I have ever read. And Old Joe is one of the most endearing characters I have ever come across. Despite the fact that he was a secondary character, it was my desire to see his goodness and devotion finally be acknowledged that kept me going. Everyone needs a Joe in their life. (less)
I won a copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program, and thank you very much for that. I'm not sure what prompted me to enter the drawing...moreI won a copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program, and thank you very much for that. I'm not sure what prompted me to enter the drawing, as I generally prefer reading fiction. I do remember watching Mr. Greenfield do political commentary on television when I was a teenager, and I remember being impressed by his command of the language. Upon winning a copy of the book, I became alarmed that I was about to read a book written in overly academic and esoteric language, thereby making comprehension by my pedestrian mind problematic. However, my fears were unfounded. It is written in a simple and straightforward style. And as for my preference for reading novels, given the fact that most of its content is speculative, it was fiction enough for me to pretend I was reading a novel (or rather three novellas), while still providing enough accurate historical details to make me realize my knowledge of mid to late 20th century history is woefully deficient. Although Mr. Greenfield's narration did fill in many of the gaps in my knowledge, I still found myself having to look up many other facts. This significantly slowed my progress in getting through the book, but I am not about to complain about feeling compelled to learn more about U.S. history.
Coming at this as neither a history or political buff, I did find it a little hard to follow. There were so many names to remember, and having what I now realize is only a cursory knowledge of the events, the only persons whose names I did know were the primary players. However, this is something that is easily remedied with slow and careful reading, and re-reading when necessary (which further slowed my progress!).
Obviously this book was not written for the likes of me, and had I not received a free copy with the expectation of a review, it's unlikely I ever would have read it. And although the feeling of contentment after reading a thoroughly satisfying novel was not present, and despite the fact that my political bent is obviously different from Mr. Greenfield's, I can't say that I regret the experience. I have always considered my lack of interest in non-fiction a personal failing. Strictly speaking this was not non-fiction, but it was close enough.
Honestly, given how well written and researched this book is, a 3 star review does seem a bit stingy, but I didn't enjoy it enough for it to warrant 4 stars.
Here is my take on each of the three sections of the book:
The first chapter, dealing with the failed assassination attempt of JFK shortly after he was elected (before he was sworn in), was rather enjoyable. Not only did I learn what really happened, but I also got a very credible what if scenario from someone who has made a careful study of the events in question.
The second section, dealing with JFK's younger brother Bobby, I had a bit of a hard time with. If Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated, if he had won the Democratic nomination, if he had been elected President, then apparently everything would have been all rainbows and butterflies. He would have brought such an amazing resolution to the Viet Nam conflict that no one would have needed to protest anything for the remainder of the decade, the Cambodian people would have been so awed by how he handled Viet Nam, they never would have allowed Pol Pot into power, and the sixties would have ended with - "more men and women at work in the broken neighborhoods . . . fewer broken families." SERIOUSLY?
The third chapter I found to be somewhat of a mess. Rather than following the format of the first two sections (if this minor event in history had changed, here is what the immediate result would be), it became more like if this minor event in history had gone differently, this would have changed, but never mind that, let's just keep supposing everything had gone different and fast forward four years. Rather than it being a chapter about Gerald Ford's presidency, it was all about Gary Hart. And throughout the chapter, it seemed as if Mr. Greenfield was looking for excuses to name-drop future political players who had absolutely no connection the the hypothetical situation he was relating, which really broke up the flow of the narration.(less)
There's a reason why this is not as well known as Jane Eyre. I found the story enjoyable enough, but the writing is unremarkable, and having Ms. Bront...moreThere's a reason why this is not as well known as Jane Eyre. I found the story enjoyable enough, but the writing is unremarkable, and having Ms. Bronte write in the first person from a male perspective just didn't ring true. I couldn't stop thinking to myself, "Would a man really act or feel this way?" I've read enough other novels written in the first person where the narrator is of the opposite gender than the writer, and I know that when done well, this thought never enters my mind.(less)
This is the third book by Maggie O'Farrell I have read. I find her writing absolutely captivating. Despite the fact that this story had a much more sa...moreThis is the third book by Maggie O'Farrell I have read. I find her writing absolutely captivating. Despite the fact that this story had a much more satisfying ending (i.e., less dark), I don't think it will leave a very lasting impression me. I sobbed when I read After You'd Gone, and I was positively disturbed after reading The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. These are both much stronger emotions that just feeling warm and satisfied. Yet as much as I try to categorize which of these three I like best, I can't. Each has its own unique merits to recommend it.
In The Distance Between Us, we meet Stella and Jake and, in typical Maggie O'Farrell fashion, we are also given their family histories. As Ms. O'Farrell slowly lays the story out for us, one absorbing layer after another, we learn of the tragic chain of events that caused the deep dark secret Stella keeps, which she has spent her whole life trying to run away from and which has left her feeling unworthy of happiness. And we acutely feel Jake's loneliness and sense of detachment as he desperately searches for something to connect him to the world around him.
If you're new to Ms. O'Farrell, be warned: you might find her style difficult to read at first. She jumps around a lot chronologically, without warning, and if you're not paying attention it's easy to get lost. But if you're like me, you become so engrossed in the story that you quickly learn to ignore it. At least this book did not change perspective - it was all told in the third person, which isn't always the case with her writing. And for this reason, I believe The Distance Between Us would probably be a good starter book if you've never read Maggie O'Farrell before. (less)
I've loved everything I've read by Maggie O'Farrell, until this. I didn't dislike it, I just found it somewhat dull compared to other books of hers I'...moreI've loved everything I've read by Maggie O'Farrell, until this. I didn't dislike it, I just found it somewhat dull compared to other books of hers I've read. I just couldn't connect with Lily or her plight. The secondary story involving Sinead was far more interesting.
Ms. O'Farrell's books generally do not offer a definite resolution, but I would have appreciated something a little more unambiguous in this case.(less)
How I wish I could have liked this book more. I didn't want to just like this book. I wanted to love this book. The whole premise of the story is of p...moreHow I wish I could have liked this book more. I didn't want to just like this book. I wanted to love this book. The whole premise of the story is of personal interest to me, as my own grandparents would have been small children somewhere in Mérida (or possibly Tizimín) at the time the historic events of the novel took place. Unfortunately, I just was not able to connect with the characters.
The story was intriguing enough to keep me reading to the end, but it lacked depth. It's like I was given the story by a completely disinterested party who was only interested in imparting facts. Details of locations and the personalities of the characters were present only enough to say they were there, but not enough to really get a feel for the locales, or to feel you know the characters. It had all the elements that should have made it a fascinating read: a good story, political intrigue, long-hidden family secrets and romance. Unfortunately, it just didn't work for me. There was so much here that could have been elaborated on to make this a truly magnificent and sweeping epic that I almost feel cheated.
Also, without the pull of a sweeping story, I wonder how well Xtabentum will go over with people who have no connection to Yucatan or the historic events presented. This story is obviously very near and dear to the author's heart, but given the sparse detail presented, it will be hard for a larger audience to feel engaged.
Ms. Hugener does show great promise, and I think Xtabentum would benefit tremendously from a re-write to add depth to the characters (what do they think, what motivates them, how do they feel, what is their connection to the world around them), especially the contemporary characters, who I feel were particularly cheated out of being fleshed out. This was a valiant first effort, and I would be willing to read another offering from her to see how her writing progresses.
On a positive note, this book has prompted me to pump my grandmother for whatever information she can recall regarding the historic events mentioned in Xtabentum. Also, just the mention of the native Yucatecan foods made me work up an appetite. I absolutely love papat zules, and I think it's high time I asked my grandmother to teach me how to make them. (less)
This story did not work for me. It felt more like an outline of a story that was never fully fleshed out. I think that this was mostly the result of t...moreThis story did not work for me. It felt more like an outline of a story that was never fully fleshed out. I think that this was mostly the result of the way the story was told - from the first person by someone who heard it told to them from someone else. Anyone who has every played telephone knows that the further removed you are from the actual events, the more diluted and distorted the story gets. Rather than getting into the main characters' heads to find out what their motivations are, we have a second hand account of what someone thought they might have been thinking.
Since I never really connected with the characters, I did not find the story to be particularly engaging or memorable. In the years to come, this review will probably be the only evidence I'll have to remind myself that I did, indeed, read this story. (less)
This is a great story about all the hard work involved in actually trying to make it as a rock band. It's easy to dis...moreWow. I don't know where to start.
This is a great story about all the hard work involved in actually trying to make it as a rock band. It's easy to dismiss those who have enough heart to attempt it as lazy and unmotivated, that they're doing it only because they don't want to get a real job. Well, guess what? This is work. Hard work. Harder than a tedious 9-5 job, because being on the road is 24/7 work.
Also, it's great to read a book where many of the events take place in my native Los Angeles. It's great to instantly be able to bring up a mental picture of places mentioned, even mundane ones like Burger King. And it turns out that I am the same age as the author, so I'm familiar with all the local cultural references he mentions and have fond recollections of the musical scene he recalls, despite the fact that I grew up on the other side of the hill. I was also pleasantly surprised at what a nice bunch of guys Divine Weeks were. Despite the copious amounts of alcohol they consumed, which is to be expected, drug use was negligible, and there was really no womanizing.
This book has also forced me to take a good hard look at myself, and it's not a pretty sight. I've slowly come to the realization that despite all my pretenses at being cool when I was in my late teens and twenties, I was nothing more than a poseur. Mr. See was the real deal. I am what he saved Raj from becoming. So Divine Weeks never became superstars. It doesn't matter. At least they can say they gave it their best shot. Meantime, here I am, middle-aged with teenagers of my own that I somehow have to inspire to reach their full potential while stuck in a job that, to quote The Smiths, "pays my way and . . . corrodes my soul" full of regret for being too scared to do something impulsive while I was still young enough for it not to matter. But I suppose you have to take the good with the bad. Mr. See describes a level of dysfunction in his home while growing up that I can't even begin to fathom. I might have been more willing to do something dramatic and spontaneous to escape a toxic home life, rather than pretend I have no dreams and stay in a nurturing environment.
I don't know if this book will appeal to younger people. I hope it does. I hope they will find inspiration in Mr. See's words: "The brave don't live forever, but the cautious don't live at all. The only thing that's truly terrifying is the unlived life."(less)