One day I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed and saw a photo that another Facebook friend "liked". I don't remember the photo, but I remember...moreOne day I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed and saw a photo that another Facebook friend "liked". I don't remember the photo, but I remember it intrigued me, as did the title of the page it was posted from, "Humans of New York". Turns out I had inadvertently stumbled upon a wonderful photo blog by Brandon Stanton who takes pictures of various people all over New York City every day; he posts each picture along with a snippet from their conversation or an insightful or funny comment.
Now he's compiled 400 photos (75 brand new) into a gorgeous hardcover book (with a frosted transparent dust jacket)! I had the opportunity to review a copy and am in love with it as expected! His pictures are beautiful just on their own. But better than that, even is what he captures in little bits of conversation, turning each picture into a complete story and a look into another person's life. Sometimes they're funny, or sentimental, or just plain adorable. And on top of that you get fun glimpses of New York City in each picture. (Yay!) He also manages to include such a variety of people and cultures in his pictures that his book sort of chronicles the diversity and humanity of the city.
This book is the perfect coffee table book! It definitely would be the perfect gift for those who love NYC and/or people in general - for those who have an appreciation for the unique qualities in every person and in every photograph.The book turned out beautifully!
I haven't read many war books so I can't compare this to any, though critics and readers alike have made comparisons to Tim O'Brien's classic, The Things They Carried. I can say, though, that I could easily see this becoming a modern classic in its own right. Kevin Powers, an Iraqi veteran, deployed to Al Tarf in 2004, describes the experience of being at war through the eyes of 21-year-old Private Bartle.
"I hadn't given a lot of thought to actually going to war, but it was happening now, and I was still struggling to find a sense of urgency that seemed proportional to the events unfolding in my life. I remember feeling relief in basic while everyone else was frantic with fear. It had dawned on me that I'd never have to make a decision again. That seemed freeing, but it gnawed at some part of me even then. Eventually, I had to learn that freedom is not the same thing as the absence of accountability" (nook pg. 24)
The Yellow Birds jumps back and forth in time starting with a scene from in Al Tafar in 2004, returning to 2003 just before deploying, and then moving forward to the after effects in 2005 and beyond. I was afraid this would confuse me, but it was always clear what was happening and when. After reading this, I truly feel like I gained some insight into what it's like being at war. Private Bartle reflects on the attitude he has to take on war, such as emotionally distancing yourself from feelings related to death, since the death of people around you is expected.
Bartle meets 18-year-old Daniel Murphy at training prior to deployment and makes a promise to Murphy's mother that he'll protect Murphy and bring him back home. We learn early on that Murphy doesn't, in fact, make it home (this is not a spoiler); this is a situation for which Bartle feels extreme grief and guilt, especially at how it all happens. We don't find out until later on what exactly happened out there, so in a way the story takes on a mystery element as we figure it out in bits and pieces. Bartle also reflects, though, on the differences between how he and others take on the war, and how this affects their ability to survive physically and emotionally.
The Yellow Birds expertly depicts the thoughts and feelings of those soldiers in the war without overstating anything. Surprisingly, I thought there was pretty minimal detail related to gore or killing or anything you'd think you might find in a novel about war. It says and shows what it needs to and leaves it at that. It's no wonder this book was a finalist for the National Book Award. The passages were beautiful; I bookmarked my way through my reading. This is the kind of book I can definitely see myself returning to for a re-read. This was one of my favorite reads this year!
With that, I'll leave you with another quote I liked:
"Maybe if things had happened a little differenty in Al Tafar it could have been like that. But things happened the way they happened without regard to our desire for them to have happened another way. Despite an age-old instinct to provide an explanation more complex than that, something with a level of profundity and depth which would seem commensurate wtih the confusion I felt, it really was that simple." (nook pg. 41).(less)
I don't think this one takes much explaining. We all know about this trial unless you totally haven't tuned into current events over the past 3-4 years, but since you're reading this review on a book blog online, I'm assuming you have tuned in at some point or another! This case hit close to home for those of us in the Orlando area. And during the entire time this case was playing out from the time little Caylee was "missing" to the verdict being read at the trial, I worked for child advocacy center in the county adjoining Orange County, where this trial was held. We all streamed the trial to our computers every day (shhh, don't tell...) and watched, though we felt that working at the child advocacy center, wasn't it relevant? I put off reading this book for a little while because I thought it might be overkill. Did I really want to immerse myself into all this even more? I mean, you couldn't turn on the tv in this area for those years without hearing about this case. But, as it turns out, I really enjoyed reading this book and actually feel that it might be a good way to wrap everything up and let our brains fully process everything that happened.
The author, Jeff Ashton was one of the prosecutors on this case. He wrote honestly and frankly in this book about his experiences working this case. He both commended and criticized others when relevant. And he inserted his thought processes throughout the various components of this case from its conception through the trial. He provided some background information that the media didn't know about (or did but twisted). It's crazy because reading this book and putting everything together chronologically and reading the detail about the experts' findings makes it even crazier to me that the jury landed on the verdict they did! But it was sort of interesting to me, personally, because I recognized some of the "players" in this case including investigators and one of the psychiatrists who was almost used by the defense. (The psychiatrist is someone who evaluated many of my clients when I worked for DCF and whose evaluations I still see a lot of now that I work in mental health).
Another interesting aspect of reading this book as compared to watching/hearing about it on tv was the forensic/scientific evidence discussed. I'm not sure if they went into as much detail and explanation at the trial (I mean, I assume they must have), but it was certainly more clear reading about it here. That's probably because in reality it's not like I was able to pay close attention to the trial...after all I was working. But things like odor composition... I didn't pay much attention to that but reading about it here was very interesting whether it was related to this case or not! But as it relates to this case, Ashton provided information about every aspect of it and the witnesses, what made it more challenging for the prosecution, how the jury was almost pre-destined to be made up of those who would find her innocent (he spoke about this a little at the UCF Book Festival), and also managed to provide an in depth look into how the judicial system works overall.
I've always enjoyed reading about the court and legal system, fiction or non, so I found this book interesting for that reason. But followers of true crime books will like this book as well. If this case was of interest to you, or if the judicial system is an interest of yours, I would recommend this book. I also do feel that by taking all the information, in total, and laying it out chronologically with his commentary, I was able to process and piece it all together in my head, even though it's all so crazy. And turns out this is also being made into a Lifetime movie with Rob Lowe playing the part of Jeff Ashton...?? I'll have to tune in! (less)
Don't you just love the cover for this? This is what initially peaked my interest, especially since it's clearly New York City! And then I read that it was about a wealthy New York family and a financial scandal and I was hooked. Last year I was fascinated when I read Tangled Webs, a non-fiction book about perjury which included the story about the Madoff ponzi scheme scandal. The Darlings definitely paralleled this scandal in many ways.
The Darlings is centered around the Darling family comprised of dad Carter, mom Ines, and their daughters Lily and Merrill. Adrian and Paul, married to Lily and Merrill, respectively, both work for Carter at his financial company, Delphic. For Paul, especially, the job as general counsel for Delphic is sort of a godsend, as his last place of business, Howary, was closed down during the financial crisis of 2008 after being investigated by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). But then admidst the financial difficulties, when a close family friend and CEO of one of Delphic's fund management companies (ack, I do NOT know these terms accurately even after reading this) commits suicide, things start to quickly unravel and a financial scandal of epic proportions is revealed. Paul figures things out and has to decide if whether to risk his marriage by separating himself from the Darlings to save himself or to stick with the family he's grown so close to, potentially going down with them.
This story was actually a lot less about just Paul than I expected and more about all the various people related to the scandal. The chapters are narrated from the viewpoints of various people including Paul, Lily, Merrill, Carter, Ines, Carter's lawyer, Sol, Sol's secretary, Yvonne, journalist and friend of the family, Duncan, and his assistant, Marina. I really liked that it was narrated this way for a couple reasons. First, for me it provided the symbolism of this overarching scandal falling upon all these people. I liked this following description about how fragile everything had become.
"'What are you going to do?' Paul asked. He spoke as quietly as he could, as if they were inside a china teacup. The world felt so fragile that the very reverberations of his voice might crack it." 'What are we going to do?'" (p.247)
While they weren't all affected financially (for instance, the assistants didn't have, I don't think, money invested with Delphic) they all had a part in perpetuating and/or revealing the scandal while others were affected on a more personal level. Each chapter was also titled with the day and time (most of the book taking place over Thanksgiving week), and this maintained a feel of immediacy in the story. There was also a subtle tension that kept me hooked to the story, not wanting to be away from it for long.
But second, this book also briefly told the stories of each of these individuals and how they came to be New Yorkers and what that meant for them. I thought this was a great way to incorporate the essence of New York City into a story about high society New York's financial scandal. And the thoughts about the city were told from both angles. For instance:
"One thing he loved about New York was the sharpness of the seasons. There was something electric about winter coming to the city. It was gritty and cold but also wondrously beautiful. The dark army of trees on Park Avenue came alive with lights at night; the store displays on Fifth Avenue were gaudy and gorgeous, as were the throngs of holiday shoppers that clogged the sidewalks. Snow in New York turned quickly into a blackened slush along the curbs, but for the first brief moment, it would dust the sidewalks like confectioners' sugar and transform the city's skyline into a perfect, tiered wedding cake." (p. 32)
Overall, I thought The Darlings was the perfect amalgamation of white collar suspense and homage to life in New York City. (Clearly, this will be added to my New York Shelf)! (less)
This book was on many "best of" lists in 2012... I loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, so that drew me to this as well. But with a fairly vague synopsis and it being so different than Financial Lives, I kept putting it off. But I should have known better! I hate to say the same thing so many other bloggers said, but it really IS so hard to explain, and it really IS about so many things, but I'll do my best.
The main storyline, if you can narrow it down, follows a young man, Pasquale, in 1962 Porto Vergogna, Italy, as he tries to turn his family's hotel, The Hotel Adequate View, into a tourist destination. Then there's the American actress who turns up to stay at his hotel while filming a movie (Cleopatra with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, yes the real one) in Rome. There's the American man who goes to Italy every year in an attempt to get away and write a book. Then present day, there's a famous movie producer, Michael Deane and his frustrated assistant, Claire. There's Shane, a spoiled script writer trying to pitch his movie. There's a middle aged man whose life has gone pretty much nowhere after being in various bands who then starts a comedy music show. Each of these characters is all connected, and you don't have to wait until the end to find out how. Within the first third of the book at least you know how most are connected. You may not like all the characters, but they are all so interesting and in some instances, scandalous.
It's not just the characters and their stories that illuminate Beautiful Ruins though. Not only is the writing intelligent (and infused with subtle humor), but the storytelling methods were so clever. Though there's mostly traditional narration, there's also a chapter from a book, part of a memoir, a pitched movie script, a play, and I could be forgetting something. Each of these was interesting, moved the story forward, and added so much. Then there's also the themes running through the book of people living their lives trying to accomplish their dreams and not always quite getting there - but maybe finding themselves along the way. It's also about how the people in our lives affect us. I loved the following quotes.
"This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life." -pg 218
All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character -- what we believe -- none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: it's our goddamned story!" -pg 266
Another interesting thing was the way Walters incorporated the real life scandals that took place during the filming of the movie, Cleopatra. He even made Richard Burton a character in the book!
Anyway, loved Beautiful Ruins! It's still in my head after several days, and now I can't wait to read more of Walter's books!(less)
Bond Girl is being touted as the Wall Street version of The Devil Wears Prada. It definitely had its similarities, and those who liked the latter will...moreBond Girl is being touted as the Wall Street version of The Devil Wears Prada. It definitely had its similarities, and those who liked the latter will probably like this. I can't really compare since I've only seen the movie version of the second, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book about a young college graduate who starts a job in finance on Wall Street and realizes it's not as glamorous as she expected it to be. That's pretty much the whole gist of this book. She deals with some crazy things to impossibly work her way up the ranks.
So far I've made it sound mostly like "chick-lit". While it has those qualities, I thought it was more substantial than some others in that genre. It also had memoir-like elements which may have been a combination of first person narrative and the knowledge that the author has her own experience working on "the Street"; and it contained elements of an exposé, revealing the greed, back-stabbing, superfluousness, and worst, the rampant sexism in the industry. It was like Mad Men up in there, although it may be worse (I haven’t seen enough Mad Men to make a true comparison).
I loved reading about Alex and the craziness she endured at her new job, the things her boss put her up to. I laughed at various parts. But along with the humor, I found myself becoming angry as well. Although this is fiction, I believe it’s based on some of the author’s experiences so I took some parts to be truisms. Any time a money amount was mentioned I felt sick. I have a master’s degree and work to exhaustion every day, yet my annual salary is a fraction of the main character’s Christmas bonus. The other thing that angered me was the way men treated the females in the book. It was so primitive and ignorant that it enraged me. It’s so hard to believe that kind of sexism exists. (But then, I work in a female dominated field of work so I have little experience with that!) Combining the ridiculously extravagant lifestyle and the sexist a-holes really made parts of this get to me. But despite all that, truly, I found Bond Girl highly entertaining. It’s a quick and fun read. You’ll probably find yourself cheering on Alex and shouting at her to make certain decisions throughout the course of the book.
There was a statement Alex makes at the very end of the book that was vague and that was never followed up with. It’s super minor but I’m curious what she meant, and I guess it’s supposed to not be a big deal. Oh, lest I forget! Bond Girl takes place in Manhattan (well, duh, it's on Wall Street) which was a fun addition for me as well. I loved my literary trip to NYC! I will happily be adding Bond Girl to my New York Shelf!
This was one of those books I hadn't necessarily planned on reading right away, but I thought I would read a few pages and then I became totally absor...moreThis was one of those books I hadn't necessarily planned on reading right away, but I thought I would read a few pages and then I became totally absorbed in the unique story. When She Woke is inspired by The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and actually liked it, but I really don't remember it enough to make many comparisons between that and this. However, I do feel that despite being inspired by it, When She Woke is definitely something different and unique in its own right.
I don't recall it specifying when, but this book takes place sometime in the future. The U.S. has created a system where only the worst of the worst criminals stay in jail. Instead, others are sentenced to "melachroming" for a certain amount of time in which their entire bodies are turned an entirely different color. The different colors represent different crimes - killers are red, misdemeanor type crimes are blue, drug related offenses yellow, more serious drug related crimes orange, and child molesters are purple. (It's been a little bit since I read this so I could be slightly off). However, the government is also theocratic so crimes are also judged from a religious perspective. Hence, Hannah Payne is sentenced to melachroming (red) for 13 years after she has an abortion. Not only does she have an abortion, but she refuses to name the father of the child. As you might imagine, melachromed individuals, although free, have to deal with a prejudice so intense that they'd probably be better off in jail anyway.
Hannah first spends 30 days in a sort of jail that also doubles as a reality show for the public. That's part of the punishment, although the book doesn't really go into any background information about that. Afterwards, Hannah ends up in a very scary home run by hypocritically religious zealots. She's treated like a prisoner there and has to attend daily sessions of "enlightenment". This part was incredibly creepy and offensive. My thought while reading this was that I would NOT recommend this book to someone who did have an abortion; I imagine that the things purported by some of the characters in the book, specifically during "enlightenment", would be difficult for someone who had this experience to read; it was awful! Whenever Hannah has a reason to think she might be free, something else happens to teach her more about being prejudiced against. She faces constant stares and rebukes by the general population, is refused services at various stores and restaurants, faces physical and sexual attack by others, and is pursued by a violent vigilante group who seeks out melachromed individuals to kill.
The plot continuously moved forward and I was fascinated in learning more about this world so those two things kept me turning the pages. I am not typically into the dystopian genre and I thought this one had the right amount of dystopia mixed with the right amount of contemporary storyline to keep a reader of more mainstream fiction interested. The main draw, I think, with When She Woke was the discussions that could be generated from various aspects of the story. For instance, not only is the government theocratic in nature, but Hannah comes from a type of evangelical religious family. Her mother disowns her for having the abortion, and her sister's husband refuses to allow the two contact. So various issues about religion were brought up. Also, should people who have been committed crimes (I'm NOT talking Hannah but the other actual criminals) be allowed to be free as long as they are very clearly identified as such? And if you do have strong beliefs about any specific morals, what is the best way to teach others about them? And, of course, for those willing to go there, what constitutes a crime in the first place? Just some very interesting things to talk about. Real dystopian lovers might be disappointed at the lack of explanation beneath much of the world building (just based on what I've read other people say in their reviews of dystopians). For me, this book was more about the world itself and the philosophical questions it generated. Race and religion, prejudice and government... it's all there!
The reviews that I'd read up until I recommended this to my husband glowed with enthusiasm. I'd also heard it was featured at this year's Book Expo Am...moreThe reviews that I'd read up until I recommended this to my husband glowed with enthusiasm. I'd also heard it was featured at this year's Book Expo America. It's potential for comedic relatability (even so far as the dog with acute anxiety, yes we have one of those) seemed like something my husband might really enjoy so I recommended it to him. And since I just happened to have a review copy, he began reading it right away. He started laughing within seconds of starting it and continuously for the rest of his reading experience. It was one of those where we'd both be sitting on the couch and I'd look over at him like "really?... let me turn down the volume on my show so it doesn't interfere with your laughing"... hehe. But really, he enjoyed it from the very beginning. So it wasn't long before I picked it up as well in between his readings, and we both ended up finishing it the same day (which just so happens to be the same day I started reading it).
Tom Violet is the lead character. He has the anxious dog, a wife with whom he is trying unsuccessfully to conceive a second child (makes for a funny opening scene), and a father who has overshadowed him in the biggest way - by winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Tom, meanwhile, is wasting away in corporate dullness and hopes for his secretly written manuscript to one day be published. Tom's life seems to be quickly spiraling downward when he unexpectedly takes back control in a spur-of-the moment way we all wish we could. But really Domestic Violets isn't about that one thing. It's about that mid-life drama that makes you question everything about your life. But it was done in a fun, witty way.
Now, I will say I found this book to be fairly standard "guy-lit" but it was solid and incredibly engaging. After all, I read it in a day. But I'm finding that some people think that label minimizes it, so maybe it's just that all the "guy-lit" I've read has been really good. I found this book surprisingly hopeful. Although it deals with parental issues, trying to live up to the outrageous success of one parent, issues with adultery, what we're meant to do in life, and the drudgery of the daily lives we often end up in, Domestic Violets was still fun and, ultimately, uplifting. I sort of got from it that things happen and we can't necessarily predict it all. We have to more go with the flow and let things play out. And not take things too seriously.
I think other big readers will enjoy the focus on the literary world. Tom's dad, Curtis Violet, wins the Pulitzer Prize and is a celebrity. I wonder if that's how it is in real life, where everywhere the author goes people recognize him. Maybe I'm just in an area with few readers because I have trouble seeing that happen here, but maybe it does, and it was fun to read about anyway. Overall, the characters felt truly genuine, as did the flaws Norman painted onto each character.
Domestic Violets was a thoroughly enjoyable read and one that both my husband and I (with our varying tastes) read quickly and have shared good conversation about already. I had a smile on my face as I read and that's always a good sign!
I used to have a pretty hard and fast rule that I would not pick up anywhere in the middle of a series. But on a couple occasions I've picked up in th...moreI used to have a pretty hard and fast rule that I would not pick up anywhere in the middle of a series. But on a couple occasions I've picked up in the middle out of some type of necessity and found it isn't always so bad. And I was really interested when The Chalk Girl came to my attention, even though it's the 12th in the series! I am so happy I took a chance with this one because I loved this book and excited about reading future books in the series (as well as the first 11).
Kathy Mallory (better known just as "Mallory") is a detective in the Special Crimes Unit in New York City. Mallory is a hardened, rough around the edges girl with a crazy past. She grew up in the foster care system, and I'm sure there's a lot more back story in previous books, but I felt like I was given a lot of information in this installment. Some compare Mallory to Dragon Tattoo's Lisbeth Salander, but I think Mallory is much scarier and seemed more emotionally hardened. In The Chalk Girl, a little girl is found lost in Central Park. No one knows where she belongs since no one has filed a missing child report. The child seems different in some way, and no one knows what to make of her statements that her uncle turned into a tree. Surprisingly, the little girl attaches immediately to Mallory and through this connection they slowly unravel the mystery of the current situation as well as unearthing a long hidden crime.
The setting, the "special victims unit", and the complexity of the situation reminds me of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit which I love. The characters are different, of course, but I think otherwise that fans of the show would likely be fans of this book. I'm curious to learn more about the characters, although I will say that for this being the 12th book I wonder that Mallory's character hasn't grown more than she has. But then, I don't know where she started.
One interesting aspect of the writing was the way the author sometimes added in her own short commentary of sorts; the narration, overall, is the traditional third person past tense, but I noticed a sarcastic or facetious comment every now and then. Usually I would find this distracting, but it was amusing it its context. The Chalk Girl also tells two related stories... the main story is the one I've described, but the beginning of each chapter has a quote or paragraph from a different story. Those pieces in themselves were intriguing, albeit somewhat confusing, but the further you get in the book the more you realize the two stories are intertwined.
I have to apologize because it's been at least a few weeks since I read this so I'm not saying as much as I may have if I'd reviewed it then. But I do know that this story absorbed me and I'm excited to read more in the series!
I was excited to read this because of all the rave reviews I had seen around. Then it made the list of finalists of the national book award, and since...moreI was excited to read this because of all the rave reviews I had seen around. Then it made the list of finalists of the national book award, and since I was already interested in reading this I went ahead and picked it up. Apparently, Otsuka is the author of well-received book, When the Emperor was Divine, which I haven't read. A lot of what I have read about these two books say that book and this book are similar, though I don't know if it's just the content or the style so I can't compare.
The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of a group of Japanese women who come the United States just before the second world war. The women are mail order brides on the way to meet their husbands and live the "American Dream". Unfortunately, life doesn't turn out the way they dreamed. They talk about the first nights with their husbands, who, by the way, are nothing like what they advertised. They talk about working for and interaction with white people. They discuss having children and the ways in which their children grow up, taking on the American culture. And then they talk about the ways in which they and other Japanese persons are forced out of their homes and communities.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The writing was beautiful and the content was so human, authentic, and insightful. Otsuka told a story about a group of women that all other women, regardless of race or ethnicity, can relate to in one way or another. One of the things I really loved about this book is also the same thing that might turn off a lot of others. The story was narrated in first person plural form. This method provided a unique but very effective way to tell the story and get the messages across. But I'll admit it wore on me every once in a while. I think some readers who prefer more traditional novels might not like this. But it was otherwise a great way to tell the story about a group of people that really applied to the group as a whole rather than being that different for each individual. It's a short book that makes quite an impact in it's few pages.
I definitely recommend The Buddha in the Attic and I hope to get to Otsuka's first book one of these days.
The Submission is a serious and thought provoking novel about issues of racism, tolerance, and awareness; about immigration, belief systems, and grief...moreThe Submission is a serious and thought provoking novel about issues of racism, tolerance, and awareness; about immigration, belief systems, and grief's healing processes. It's two years after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers. A jury of artists and professionals, including one family member of a person who died in that attack, have convened to choose the winning architectural entry for the memorial that will be built at ground zero. After some conflicts and thorough discussion, they decide on a winning entry. Only, when the name of the winning design is announced, Mohammed Khan, everyone immediately recoils in fear and astonishment. How is it possible that a Muslim man's design is the winner of the memorial for the attacks perpetrated by Muslim men?
What follows is the fight over how to handle this situation both by the jurors and then by the American public, as the information is leaked to the press. Some think Khan's design shouldn't be allowed to be created while others believe his rights are being violated. Some believe Khan, himself, would be doing the right thing by withdrawing his submission (despite the fact that this memorial would be an extreme milestone in his architectural career). Then there's the discussions about the difference been a Muslim man and an Islamic extremist, not to mention Khan may not even believe in Islam. No one really knows; not even Khan, at times. Although the entire book revolves around this exact plot and storyline, there were several supplemental themes. What about the people who were in America illegally but who also lost family members in the attacks. Should they not be provided with the same concessions and care that other family members are provided? And how is it decided what is the best way for people to heal from extreme grief?
This novel was so emotionally charged for me, as I'm sure it will be for many readers. I abhor ignorance, especially as it relates to racial issues. The Submission is told from various viewpoints, so the reader is often provided with Khan's perspective. I think knowing how benign his attitude and reason for entering the contest made it that much more enraging for me the way he was treated. There was a quote near the beginning of the book about a woman so pessimistic that in looking so intently for a bruise in an apple eventually caused the bruise herself. (Unfortunately, I can't remember the page number). That was how I felt about the characters in this book. Their fear became so exaggerated that they caused new fears they hadn't necessarily had in the first place. Even the person who was his staunchest advocate started creating fears of her own and questioning her beliefs. And it seemed like Khan wasn't always sure that the route he had taken (for instance, not having to answer any questions whatsoever, on principle) was the right way to go.
One of the dynamics I found so interesting was those of Khan's and how he so questioned his own beliefs. While he seemed assured and was rational (though there were times when I wished he would concede in just the smallest of ways to help come to a compromise) he was often conflicted. This is evident as described in this quote about the way he tamed his interactions with others.
...he realized that the difference wasn't in how he was being treated but in how he was behaving. Customarily brusque on work sites, he had become gingerly, polite, careful to give no cause for alarm or criticism. He didn't like this new, more cautious avatar, whose efforts at accommodation hinted at some feeling of guilt, yet he couldn't quite shake him. (p. 25)
And this quote describes the way in which his rationality started to give way to paranoia because of some of his experiences.
The memory of the airport interrogation was unpacked, shaken out, stuffed full of straw to make it lifelike once again. There was no evidence Roi hadn't elevated Mo because he was a Muslim but none against it, either. If he had been singled out once, why not again? Paranoia, no less than plasticine, could be molded. (p. 40)
Unfortunately, there isn't a wonderful, pretty resolution to everything. Though I found the book gripping, its focus was really on how this situation affected various people in the community from those who lost family members to those who wanted to have a "cause" to fight (for or against) to the governor who wanted to twist this for her future presidential campaign. This book angered and saddened me, but it wasn't overly dark or melancholic either. I thought the author did a good job of portraying the complexity of the various perspectives. The ending was a little ambiguous, but the real meat in this book was the dynamics of the characters and all the thoughts they elicited for me. This is one I will not be forgetting for a long time!
I was super excited to read this after reading such rave reviews when it came out last year. I think it made the best of 2011 list for almost everyone I know who read it. I have also enjoyed a few of Patchett's other books, especially Bel Canto, so I had high hopes for State of Wonder.
As soon as I finished reading this I texted my sister to tell her she, too, had to read it but that it would break her heart. Sometimes when I watch a scary movie (or one that scares me anyway) I have to remind myself that the characters are just actors; at one point in this book I had to remind myself that the characters were creations of the author's imagination, just to level the impact they had on me. As with Leaving Atlanta (by Tarayi Jones), there is one specific scene in this book that broke me and that I won't forget.
Before I go any further, here's what State of Wonder is about. Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher working for a company in Minnesota, Vogel. For a couple years, Vogel has had a scientist, Dr. Swenson, doing research in the amazon to create a new drug that is sure to change lives all over the world. But they haven't heard anything from this scientist in two years. State of Wonder starts out with the notification that another scientist Vogel sent to the amazon to follow up on the progress of Dr. Swenson has died. Due to some of the circumstances, Marina is sent to follow up on not only Dr. Swenson's progress but to find out how her colleague, sent on a quick trip, died in the jungle.
What follows is a crazy trip to the amazon in which Marina deals with the intimidating and formidable Dr. Swenson, braves the jungle and its tribes and beasts, and comes face-to-face with questionable ethics of drug research in the amazon.
I haven't read a book of Patchett's in a while, so I guess I'd forgotten what her writing was like. Her writing was fabulous. And she also managed to create such real and interesting characters that I felt like this book just soaked me up in its pages. The research and ethical quandaries Marina stumbled upon were also thought provoking and added an interesting element to the storyline. In some ways this reminded me of Verghese's Cutting for Stone, (and both had main characters who were doctors). It was definitely an escape for me to travel to the Amazon, and State of Wonder is not without it's surprises! I loved this book and am glad I had the opportunity to read this! Makes me want to return to Patchett's back list to read what I have yet to read of hers.(less)
The dedication for this book appropriately reads, "To those who seek the truth". In astounding and detailed fashion, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist...moreThe dedication for this book appropriately reads, "To those who seek the truth". In astounding and detailed fashion, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Stewart chronicles the true events of the scandals of Martha Stewart (insider trading), "Scooter" Libby (leaking the name of a CIA agent), Barry Bonds (using steroids), and Bernie Madoff (running a Ponzi scheme). What these individuals have in common, however, is not just that they were involved in criminal investigations, but that each of them committed perjury, lying under oath. The theme that weaves throughout Tangled Webs is that of the epidemic of perjury that has overcome America, which is, sadly, a broader reflection of the loss of values in our culture.
Tangled Webs was a riveting, cerebral, white collar true crime story. I struggle with trying to describe the writing style because it had a narrative quality but wasn't completely a narrative non-fiction. Rather, it had these elements combined with plain ol' great, journalistic "storytelling". Though this book does have a density that may be intimidating (it's long and there's a ton of information), it was an unexpectedly easy and engaging read. I was truly enthralled with the book, with the detailed information, with the points made by Stewart, with everything. I implore any of you who have the slightest interest in the topic to read this! I was so thoroughly impressed with this book, I can't even explain... I just constantly talk about it and all the things I learned from it. I want to share everything I learned!
Stewart organized each section superbly. Through interviews and reviews of grand jury transcripts, Stewart pieced together all the chronological detail of each story including the grand jury testimonies that occurred at the culmination of each scandal. He followed that up with what happened at the actual trial. Each section then ended with what each of the main "characters" is doing now. As I read, I found myself fascinated at times and saddened at times by people's lack of scruples. Each presented story illustrated the very sad fact that these successful role models, of sorts, were dishonest and/or tried to hide their wrongdoings. Sometimes they were completely brazen in their actions. I will say that I lost a lot of respect for the main characters in the book (well, at least of what little I may have had) but also for others that were involved. While there are "main characters" and, yes, they did lie, there were so many accomplices. There were also people who plain didn't do their jobs by following up where they should have. Of course, I acknowledge that I don't have their whole stories, but, for instance, Bernie Madoff could easily have been caught two years before he was which would have saved the public $45 billion in losses. And when I say easily, I mean, several people dropped the ball when only slightly more follow up would have busted the scheme right open.
Another thing I liked about Tangled Webs was the underlying point being that regardless of the actual crimes committed by these people, the act of perjury in itself was a crime; yet, there tends to be a high tolerance and lack of gravitas contributed to this issue. (Some of the issues presented were the thoughts of some individuals that criminally prosecuting someone for perjury was a waste and not important). In my short adult life as of yet, I have seen lying by people, including respected professionals, that so frustrates and discourages me. AND, the irony is that for these individuals, lying only made things worse! For instance, Martha Stewart may never have had any issues had she not lied. In fact, had she just left well enough alone, she would have lost monetarily what to the average middle-class person might be equal to $500 (this is relatively speaking based on the amount of money she makes). Scooter Libby may have had some serious repercussions, but nothing near what he could have had to endure (except for some rather lucky exceptions). In one part, Stewart quoted U.S. Attorney for Chicago, Patrick Fitzgerald's, responses about perjury as a crime.
...we brought those cases because we realized that the truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost. (p. 224)
If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it's a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly. (p. 224)
If nothing else, Tangled Webs, gives one a lot of thinking points when it comes to thoughts on treating lying and perjury in and of itself a crime as serious as the other alleged crimes (insider trading, etc.)
I also feel that through the descriptions of each of the aforementioned scenarios, I learned a lot about the stock market and the dynamics of the white house. Stewart did an excellent job of providing as much documented information as was relevant while still providing his own commentary, explanation, and summarization. I stayed up to speed with mostly everything, though the quoted parts of the Bernie Madoff section often read like gibberish to me. I was never good at economics or understanding stocks and bonds, and individuals in that arena speak their own language! But even so, Stewart explained everything well. Another commendation: he maintained a neutral stance politically. He pointed out wrongs of both political parties, when relevant, and didn't appear to side with any people over another except for as it related to who was truthful and who was not.
Have you gotten a feel for my thoughts about this book? Because if you didn't, I loved it! It was fantastic! I'm new to Stewart as an author, but he apparently has quite the impressive, best-selling back list. I will absolutely be checking out his previous books and hope you decide to read this one.
It may be a debut novel, but Lori Roy's Bent Road is a masterpiece. Her storytelling, characters, setting and atmosphere -- everything was just fantas...moreIt may be a debut novel, but Lori Roy's Bent Road is a masterpiece. Her storytelling, characters, setting and atmosphere -- everything was just fantastic. Bent Road takes place in 1967 when the Scott family moves from Detroit back to Kansas where the father/husband, Arthur, grew up. He hasn't been back in the twenty years since he moved; too many deep-seated feelings abound for him regarding his past and the death of his sister, Eve. He's never discussed this with his wife, Celia, nor ever taken his family back to meet his mother, Reesa, or his other sister, Ruth. Even after the eventual move to Kansas, the situation regarding Eve remains a mystery of which no one will speak. Shortly after the Scott's arrive in Kansas a little girl goes missing and impacts the community and their own family. And a situation between Arthur's sister, Ruth, and her husband, Ray, puts the entire family in danger.
A sense of foreboding manifested throughout the entire novel. That underlying chill contributed so much to the atmosphere of the story. The mystery surrounding Eve revealed itself slowly and managed to equally remain a large part of the plot while simultaneously taking a backseat to the characters current dynamics. Roy's writing was very deliberate; every word and every sentence had a purpose. The character development was superb. The fragility of each of the characters, and of the family as a whole, was remarkably portrayed. The fourteen-year-old son, Daniel, wants nothing more than to be a man and earn his father's pride. And I think he managed to achieve this by the end, but in a surprising way. Nine-year-old Evie, her aunt's namesake, wants nothing more than to know her aunt, wants everyone in the family to love each other. But her extreme naivete is also hurtful to the family. Celia, an incredibly supportive wife, tries to make the best out of the move to the country despite her trouble adjusting, and struggles with the unsuspected dangers lurking in the community.
I've heard Roy's writing compared to that of Tana French's, but since I've yet to read any of French's, I can't comment on that. I found myself reminded initially, however, of Nancy Pickard's novels (The Virgin of Small Plains, The Scent of Rain and Lightning). But really, to compare to anyone isn't too fair because Roy's writing has a distinct quality of its own. The narration was interesting; it's written in third person but moves at times to various perspectives. There aren't any chapter divisions, just whatever perspective should be told for that page or that paragraph. The first time the narration switched characters it sort of caught me off guard, but after that I hardly noticed it and I really liked the way we had a glimpse (only as much as necessary) into another person's thoughts.
The execution of Bent Road was wonderful and I absolutely recommend it. It's one of my favorites of 2011 so far!
The title of this one is a little confusing... it isn't the actual Gone with the Wind but it's about Margaret Mitchell's book and her experiences with writing it and managing the aftermath. I was obsessed with this book. As busy as I was with work when I was reading this, I returned to it every chance I had. But I also think it's one of those books that you will either love and be totally into or possibly not into it at all. You have to really have an interest in both the book itself and in the ways of the publishing industry... actually you don't necessarily need to like Gone with the Wind itself as long as you are interested in the greatness of its classic status.
This book chronicles everything about Gone with the Wind from when Margaret Mitchell began writing it to when it was published and became a classic, to it becoming a movie, to Margaret's efforts to protect the rights of the book in various ways, etc. She was fiercely protective of the book, and her efforts to protect it (and herself from any type of celebrity) was more than a full time job for years and years afterward. Even after her death, her family took on these same efforts and fights. It was fascinating to read about how things worked in the publishing world in general but also how it was back then.. things that I'm sure have improved since. For instance, the lack of copyright laws/agreements with some countries prevented her from having anything to do with it being printed in other countries or receiving anything for it. That's just one example of the many dramas of GWTW. One thing that surprised me was how much she did not allow to happen... oh how I would have loved to (maybe one day we still can) see a Broadway musical version of GWTW!
Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was an absolutely fascinating read! Not only was there so much drama (for lack of a better word) with the publishing and all the stuff that happened afterward, but it was so fun to read about a book that the world fell in love with and adored. It doesn't seem like there is anything like it today (except mayyybeee Harry Potter). I highly recommend this book to any book lovers and, of course, to all big fans of Gone with the Wind. (less)
I had been interested in reading this book ever since I saw it when perusing the sociology section at my local Barnes & Noble one day. I never got to it so I was ecstatic when I saw that this was going to be touring with TLC Book Tours. It's fairly short which, from the outside, disguises the immense power and impact that this book has. I read it slowly because I found myself stopping between its pages, pondering everything I was reading. Maybe it's my social work background and experience working with sex crime cases, but I feel like I don't have the words to express how important I think this book is for everyone to read. There was so much I wanted to quote from this book, but I limited it to what I included here.
Girls Like Us is part memoir of Rachel Lloyd, founder and executive director of GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services) and part exposition on issues related to the commercial sexual exploitation of young girls in America. People tend to relate the trafficking of young girls for sex to other, third-world countries. But it's also happening right within our borders. (Not to mention, for those of you local, a lot in Central Florida as well). Lloyd started GEMS in her mid-twenties after escaping from a life of being commercially sexually exploited. Girls Like Us is very astutely divided into chapters that focus on the different factors that relate to these crimes including risk factors, family dynamics that place girls at risk of being victimized, recruitment of girls, why girls stay in these situations, pimps, johns, stigma, healing, etc. Each chapter provides information about that specific factor and also Lloydy's past experiences that relate to that factor from beginning through the creation of GEMS. She also provides various stories about the many girls who have received support and other services from GEMS.
There is so, so much I could discuss about this book. It was an emotional read for me but often in an intensely angry way. Especially in the discussions about how our society treats these young girls. There is such a disparity between how our society perceives the girls based on their ethnicity and social class; while some are easily perceived as outright victims and given tons of media coverage, others (even those as young as eleven and twelve years old!!) are considered criminals who choose this life of "prostitution" and whose victimizations, sometimes as far as murders, are not even mentioned in the media. As Lloyd points out, how is it that our country considers teens not mature enough and capable of consenting to sex until the age of sixteen, yet girls younger than that who are beaten, manipulated, and essentially enslaved by men much older and forced into sex acts are considered culpable. Even the programs that understand this and provide treatment are limited to how much they can provide.
"No program would take Tiffany: She didn't have a drug problem, a prerequisite for most programs that cater to her age. One night she disappeared for a few hours and returned proudly announcing that she'd smoked crack and was now eligible for the drug program, but we had to hurry [because] she wasn't sure how long it would be in her system." (p.25)
The following quote really spoke to me about the ultimate despair these girls often end up feeling.
"I already feel like my life won't last much longer. I've made arrangements with some of the girls at work that if I don't come in for a few days, they should know that JP definitely did it, the spare keys are under the mat, here's my mum's address, get my stash money from the kebab shop to pay for shipping my body home. I've just turned nineteen, but I doubt I'll make it to twenty. This man will take my life. I'm not even scared anymore, just resigned to the fact." (p.92-93)
Another thing that particularly enraged me was the way our pop culture has elevated celebrities who glamorize the act of pimping; this includes rappers who do so being given multi million dollar endorsement deals. She speaks about her horror when watching the 78th Academy Awards when the song "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" won for Best Original Song.
"As I watched the audience and subsequent presenters embrace the moment, perhaps because they thought it was a great song, perhaps because they thought they were embracing 'black culture,' not understanding that these images did not represent or benefit it, or perhaps because to them, pimps were larger-than-life caricatures, driving Cadillacs and sporting diamond pinkie rings, I couldn't help but think of all the girls I've visited in hospitals, girls with lifelong scars, girls traumatized and broken, girls who've been brainwashed, girls who'd been beaten for not meeting their 'quota.' In my world, pimps are not managers, protectors, or 'market facilitators,' as one research study euphemistically called them, but leeches sucking the souls from beautiful, bright young girls, predators who scour the streets, the group homes, and junior high schools stalking their prey." (p.90)
Despite the horror described within its pages, there are also stories of resilience and girls who eventually are able to overcome their traumatic histories (including the author herself). The writing was also excellent (the author happens to be a book lover as well!) and the layout and organization of the book was superb. I want EVERYONE to read this!! I want my clients to read this (I have specific people in mind), my colleagues for sure, everyone who is a part of our society. These stories are examples of why I pursued social work in the first place and now that I've chosen to work with individuals on a one-on-one basis, it confirms my thoughts and considerations of pursuing a specialization in trauma therapy. If this topic or human rights, in general, interests you at all please consider reading this. Also check out the GEMS website! (less)
The Weird Sisters has been all abuzz in the blogosphere and publishing industry. All the other blogger reviews I've read have spouted adoringly about...moreThe Weird Sisters has been all abuzz in the blogosphere and publishing industry. All the other blogger reviews I've read have spouted adoringly about this debut novel, and I can now say that I have also had the pleasure of absolutely reveling in this fantastic book as well.
The Weird Sisters (which is actually a Shakespearean reference) is a story about a family with three adult daughters who return home when their mother is diagnosed with cancer. That description, though, is too mild, too plain, and not completely accurate. That alone wouldn't bring me to read this book. Here are some reasons why this book is set apart from all those other stories about adult children returning home.
A Family of Readers: Most readers and book-lovers seem to love reading about characters who love reading. Books abound in the Andreas household. A common scene is the family sitting around reading books. Whenever they go somewhere, each family member automatically takes a book with them. In their love for books, it was inevitable that I would love this family and these characters. In one scene, Bianca "Bean" is explaining to a boyfriend how she has time to read a few hundred books a year:
"How do you have time" he asked, gobsmacked. She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her. Because I don't spend hours flipping through cable complaining there's nothing on? Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pre-game, in-game, and post-game talking heads? Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati? Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in available reflective surfaces? I am reading! "'I don't know," she said, shrugging. (pg. 70)
Loved that part!! (Although, a few hundred is quite a lot!)
Shakespeare: I had heard this book was full of Shakespeare references and was afraid I wouldn't enjoy the reading experience because I wouldn't get them. I shouldn't have been worried at all! Turns out it ended up being quite a charming and unique addition to the story without requiring the reader to really have much knowledge of him at all. The father of the Andreas girls is a Shakespearean scholar so he can quote lines from any Shakespeare play whenever it applies to the situation, just like fans of pop culture who can insert a funny movie quote into any situation (my husband), or a song lyric. And because they've grown up with their father doing so, and in their father obsessing over "the Bard", the Andreas girls can and do the same. The quotes were all italicized so the reader knew it was a specific quote. I loved how Brown used quotes that fit perfectly into the situation, and I just loved how the family used them. For example, in the prologue:
"The second was from our father. He communicates almost exclusively through pages copied from The Riverside Shakespeare. The pages are so heavily annotated with decades of thoughts, of interpretations, that we can barely make out the lines of text he highlights. But it matters not; we have been nurse and nurtured on the plays, and the slightest reminder brings the language back.
Come, let us go; and pray to all the gods/For our beloved mother in her pains. And this is how Cordy knew our mother had cancer. This is how she knew we had to come home." (pg. 3)
What I thought was also funny is that even though they've grown up with it, even the daughters don't always know what he's talking about when uses a Shakespeare quote. In a couple parts, he would say something and they'd respond with the equivalent of "huh?!" That made it more realistic and better able for me to relate to them. And I thought it was great that I kept finding really great quotable Shakespeare too while reading this.
"This above all: to thine own self be true , and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. He reached across the table and patted her hand and then picked up his book again." Conversation finis. Thanks, Polonius.
This Really is Not a Dysfunctional Family/a "belated coming-of-age": There are so many dysfunctional family stories out there, and this is almost advertised as one. But I found it to be refreshingly not so dysfunctional. Just like the tagline says, the sisters love each other but don't like each other. I didn't even see it so much as them not liking each other. They were just different. And there's nothing wrong with that. They may not have been super-close, but they still wholly loved each other. I thought Brown did a fantastic job of depicting each character and their nuances. She did a great job of reflecting the effects of the theory of birth order and how we can easily allow it to define who we are. In her author q & a, Brown refers to the story as a "belated coming-of-age". I love that definition. I think we "come of age" many times in our life so I was happy to see a story about this happening to people my age. I mentioned earlier that the fact they came home because of their mother having cancer wasn't completely accurate. It's as though her cancer coincided with other issues that were leading them back home anyway. Their mother's illness, then, served as their excuse to return home without having to own up to any failures they feel they may have had. But come home they did, and I loved all the ways this family interacted with each other.
First Person, Plural: It's an interesting tense to use. I thought it might be weird but it didn't bother me at all. Unique, but worked perfectly for this book, as the story was being narrated by all three sisters.
Those were all the things that made this specific story unique and special. But it couldn't have been told by just anyone. Although this is Eleanor Brown's debut novel, she's no novice at writing and it's obvious. Her writing style and prose really brought the story to life. She ultimately took a story where nothing really significant happens and made it a fun and endearing character and family study. It's funny, because as I was reading this, I compared the writing to that of Maeve Binchy (which I've done on this blog only one other time) because of the way I felt for the characters and the story. Then I read Brown's author q & a where she said she learned from Maeve Binchy's writing how to weave together multiple storylines. Turns out I was spot on in my comparison! I loved the prose and word choice; Brown's writing is exactly how I hope to write one day.
The Weird Sisters is one of those books that you will want to embrace and keep nearby, even after you finish reading it -- a very beautifully and well-written novel of sisters, family, and finding oneself.
I was so excited to have an opportunity to review this book for its paperback release. I immediately regretted passing it up last time I had the chanc...moreI was so excited to have an opportunity to review this book for its paperback release. I immediately regretted passing it up last time I had the chance, especially after hearing such wonderful things about it. The sociological aspect of it combined with helping children is right up my alley. This book did not disappoint at all. I absolutely adored it!!
When author, Conor Grennan, decided to take a year long trip around the world, he planned on spending a couple months at a children's orphanage in Nepal. He admittedly included these plans more for the achievement and how it would look to others. But what he didn't expect was to love and care for the children so much. Shortly afterward, he learned that the children were being trafficked from their mountainous villages and being sold for labor in the bigger towns. This, and his love for the children, sparked in him a desire to do everything he could to save these children and reunite them with their families. This led, later, to the creation of the non-profit organization, Next Generation Nepal.
Little Princes turned out to be more memoir-like than I expected. For some reason I imagined it being more sociological non-fiction. But, regardless, the memoir form worked just as well and gave it a personal component. I was surprised at the humor that sparkled throughout the book. Conor was very unprepared for the cultural differences in Nepal, and describing his reaction to these experiences was fun to read. I loved the scene when he first arrived a the orphanage and the children jumped all over him. I love that they all called him "Brother", and I loved the scene when he was trying to teach them how to say his name. Oh, and his experience walking through the village telling all the villagers "Namaste" had me rolling with laughter. (You have to read to find out why).
These funny moments were more in the beginning of the book. The latter parts became more serious, though the children and the volunteers' interactions with them lent a lighter bent to the book. It's probably not surprising that the book was very heart warming as well! It sounds like the author really had a life changing experience in volunteering at the Little Princes orphanage. While I don't find myself being brave enough to travel around or across the world to do what he did, he re-inspires me to dedicate myself to the children I am passionate about here in the U.S. I truly loved this book and will be recommending it for sure!
Wow! I decided to read this after hearing some early buzz about how great and twisted it is and am so glad I did it. Gone Girl was crazy in all types of ways. It started off fairly basic enough (in terms of mystery/thrillers). Nick Dunne's wife, Amy, disappears on the their fifth wedding anniversary. When Nick gets home, he sees the living room a mess and the furniture overturned. As the investigation progresses, the evidence against Nick begins piling up. Nick fails to have an alibi; and though he could provide them with some more information, Nick finds himself lying and/or omitting information as well which adds to the presumption of guilt. Further hurting Nick's case is the fact that his and Amy's marriage hasn't been the best and rather than a day of celebration, the day is more of a tense evaluation for them of where their marriage is headed.
The story alternates Nick's present day narration of the investigation with Amy's diary entries from the time they meet up until she disappears. Amy's diary entries chronicle a marriage that was falling apart and that may provide some clues into what's happened to her. In the meantime, the public and the media vilify Nick, camping out in his yard and and at his work. They judge his every move and his every facial expression at the press conferences.
I don't very often find myself having to be vague about the plot or themes, but this is truly one of those books that I can't fill you in on much. What I can say is that it's crazy, and when you think it's crazy enough, it becomes a whole 'nother kind of crazy. There are some themes in here even though it is a mystery and a thriller of sorts, one of the prominent ones being marriage and what challenges can quickly abound. It's also a testament to how our backgrounds can shape who we become or who we choose to become. It's insane and un-put-downable. This is a MUST read!!(less)
I really wasn't so sure what to think before and right when I started this book about a Pavee Gypsy in 1950's Ireland. A what?? Then, I watched the au...moreI really wasn't so sure what to think before and right when I started this book about a Pavee Gypsy in 1950's Ireland. A what?? Then, I watched the author's video at bn.com and thought, okay, sounds intriguing enough. It's about a 12-year-old boy raised by his father; they're travellers (spelled this way on purpose per the author's note), or "tinkers", as they're derogatorily referred to by the townspeople -- these house dwellers, referred to by the Pavees as "bluffers", discriminate against the Pavees, considering them merely homeless and dirty. They often close their shops to the Pavees or retaliate against them in school.
In The Outside Boy, 12-year-old Christy (short for Christopher) Hurley narrates his story. The book begins with the death of Christy's grandfather with whom he has a close relationship. In discussing matters of death, the reader is first introduced to the cultural aspects of being a Pavee Gypsy or traveller. Christy and his cousin, Martin, have always been taught to care for the deceased a certain way, so when things are unexpectedly done differently, they horrify their family by taking matters into their own hands. Another storyline involves Christy investigating the truth about his mother; he's always known he "murdered" his mother, as she died by bleeding to death seven minutes after his birth. But an auspicious happening leads Christy to believe his grandfather (Grandda) sent him a last message in which Christy learns everything he's known about his mother may not be completely true.
Although the promised event regarding the truth about Christy's mother follows through in its intrigue and adds to the story overall, this doesn't take up a large part of the plot. The majority of The Outside Boy is about Christy's experiences as a child entering adolescence and trying to fit in. This story will strike a chord with anyone who grew up "different" in some manner, be it culturally or otherwise. We watch Christy yearn for acceptance in school and as he experiences his first crush on a girl he names Finnaula Whippet (because he doesn't know her real name, and she just looks like a Finnaula to him). We see as Christy doubts his identity and how this affects him in his interactions with classmates. In an amusing chapter, Christy learns about the ten commandments in Catholic school and is aghast at the thought that he unknowingly committed these sins. He then angrily confronts his father for not teaching him these commandments earlier. In the following quote, Christy has just finished a conversation with his father in which his father unburdens him of his worrisome thoughts.
"And I felt something creeping over me, relief mingled with something else. I was glad I'd told him, and I even felt grateful for him a little, because he'd managed to bring me back from a dark place. But as he stood and brushed his hands against his trousers, I had the feeling I'd taken something very big from him. Like he'd seen I was missing a leg, so he'd lopped his own one off and gave it to me." (pg. 184 of advanced copy)
This quote demonstrates my two favorite aspects of this novel: the writing and Christy. The author excelled in her writing style; never once did I feel an extravagance where a word was used just for the sake of using it. The word choice was simple yet contributed to beautifully worded sentences. Parts of the narrative are told in the Irish Pavee vernacular -- "We was all sleeping when them headlamps slid acrosst my face in the darkness... My eyes was as wide as them luminous circles..." (pg. 8 of advanced copy) -- but not all, so when it was there it contributed to the atmosphere, but when it wasn't there it made easier reading. And just to provide one more quote near the beginning I feel exemplifies the writing I enjoyed:
"Dad was only in his bare feet, and he made a frantic silhouette, leaping out of the wagon after his mother. I crawled to the door behind him and watched Granny deliver her unholy cries into the dark camp. I pulled my blue ankles up and tucked my blanket 'round them while I watched the horrible scene unfold: Grann, down on her knees beside the deadened fire, rocking back and over so hard I feared she would topple into the ashes. The keen she let up was so thick and tender I could nearly see it coming out of her, her breath spiraling out violently in torrid colors, defeating the darkness and drenching the camp with grief." (pg. 3 of advanced copy)
And as I mentioned, I adored Christy. His thoughts were so genuine as he struggled with his thoughts about being a traveller as well as those thoughts he had regarding the truth about his mother. He expresses pride for his lifestyle, but like any other child his age, feels doubt too. Christy was an immedately lovable character with an innocence but desire to figure out his place in the world. Additional elements I should mention are Christy's relationship with his cousin, Martin, and his revelations about his parents. Christy's cousin, Martin, plays a great secondary role to Christy. Martin is the braver of the two, always in more trouble, but he's also more comfortable in his skin than Christy. It was adorably entertaining to watch the two play off of each other. And near the end, Christy learns a great deal about both his parents; this compelling situation was, again, so relatable. How many of us have learned things about our parents, perhaps after determining our own opinions based on the little information we had, only to learn there was so much more -- that our parents were real people with different lives and complications before we were ever even born?
The only downside for me? I still feel a slight lack of understanding of the Pavee lifestyle. At times it seemed fun and free, but at other times I had difficulty discerning it from a homeless lifestyle. I'm aware being thought of as homeless is a stereotype of the Pavees, but the main thing that led me to this confusion was when Christy would mention he was hungry or didn't have enough food. I wonder why, if they aren't sufficiently provided with enough food, is the lifestyle so loved? I understood the other parts, (the freedom, the family, the fun), but the hunger issue was the one part that made it difficult for me to relate.
In all, I truly didn't know what to expect going into this. I hoped to like it, I'll admit, after meeting the author, who is such a fun person, at the Book Blogger Convention; but as always I aim for complete, if sometimes nicely worded, honesty. And in this case, I found that Christy and his story found a spot in my heart. While the lack of continous or fast plot may dissuade some readers from this book, others will find this gem of a story a heart-warming one not just about the Gypsy population of Ireland but of a 12-year-old boy trying to define his identity.
This is the second book of Sophie Hannah's that I've read, and I am truly thrilled to have found Hannah's books. Just as with The Wrong Mother, my fir...moreThis is the second book of Sophie Hannah's that I've read, and I am truly thrilled to have found Hannah's books. Just as with The Wrong Mother, my first Hannah book, The Cradle in the Grave involved an intricate, gripping plot combined with literary elements and some controversial topics.
The Cradle in the Grave tells the story of three women whose children passed away for unexplained reasons. Some call it "crib death" or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), while others say the mothers murdered them. Two of the mothers are initially found guilty and later acquitted on appeal, and the other mother is found not guilty from the get-go. Fliss Benson, originally somewhat of a peon in the production company, Binary Star, is suddenly tasked with taking over production of the documentary on these "crib death murders". Then, Helen Yardley, one of the wrongly accused mothers is killed. Fliss, meanwhile, receives a card in the mail with 16 numbers on it (4 rows of 4); it just so happens that the murdered woman is found with one on her as well. So while Fliss tries to continue with the documentary and find out the truth about Helen's murder, document the history of the children's crib deaths, and possibly find out what really happened to the children (all while hoping she's not next), the entire local police station band together to solve the murder of the famed mother. Oh, and there's also the expert witness doctor who testified against all these mothers who is now being investigated and will likely lose her license.
First, let me say this book is apparently party of a series... I think. The detectives all appeared in The Wrong Mother. I don't remember much about them but their basic characteristics and their names. I'm not sure if their back stories are really integral to the series or not. I'm one of those that does NOT like reading series out of order... and turns out this is the most recent in the series and The Wrong Mother is third of five. Normally that would give me all kinds of reader anxiety, but I really didn't feel like I was missing anything. If I hadn't recognized the names, I wouldn't have realized I was reading a series. The core of this story was really the other characters, the mystery, and the scandals.
Not only is Hannah's writing wonderful, but I liked the format and structure of the book. Though most of the story is told through the traditional narrative methods (alternating chapters from the detectives in third person and Fliss Benson in first person), Hannah also included interview transcripts, excerpts from a book one of the characters wrote, an article written by another character, and later the prologue from another character's book. Now as I write it it sounds confusing, but truly it wasn't and it added a lot to the story.
As for the actual meat of the story, there was so much. Like I said, there was really intricate thriller, but it was combined with a pretty hot topic. In that vein, this book was sort of a vehicle for discussion. There was a time in the past when I stopped a book midway through and really had a lot of negative to say about it because it felt like the author must have been wronged and clearly had an agenda. As I have spent my entire post-college career in child welfare, I took offense to that. I worried momentarily that The Cradle in the Grave was going there as well. Hannah's characters ruminate and philosophize on the concept of crib death and on the child welfare system. (Turns out the child welfare system in the UK works exactly as the one in Florida!) So, of course, if the characters criticized parts of it (which they surely did), I was thinking of the rebuttals and rationalizations in my head. And I also happen to know a lot about "crib deaths" from my last job, so whenever there was talk about the symptoms of all the various injuries, I was SURE I knew what happened. Turned out, though, that Hannah managed to present rational arguments from both sides of the debate and really represented the topic well, in my mind. I liked how the book ended in that while the mystery was solved, the other topics left me thinking. There's definitely a lot that could be discussed after reading this book, though I would only recommend discussion of it to the most democratic and sensitive of groups.
The Cradle in the Grave was fantastically put together and wove in quite the hot topic for debate. I can't wait to read more of Hannah's books.
Room is such an amazingly unique read that I'm absolutely sure will be adored by many. It's perfect for those looking for something different to fresh...moreRoom is such an amazingly unique read that I'm absolutely sure will be adored by many. It's perfect for those looking for something different to freshen up their reading. This book received an extensive amount of buzz at this year's BEA, was just recently short-listed for the Man Booker prize (yay!!) and it definitely lived up to the hype!
Room is narrated wholly by 5-year-old Jack who has lived his entire life in a small room with only a skylight and no windows. The room is kept locked by a keypad to which only "Old Nick" knows the code. Biologically, "Old Nick" is Jack's father. Jack, however, knows this man only as the elusive stranger who enters the room at night while Jack is sleeping in Wardrobe or brings them "Sunday treat" once a week based on their requests. The reader quickly learns that "Old Nick" kidnapped Jack's mother 7 years prior when she was 19-years-old, has kept her imprisoned in this tiny room for all those years, and fathered Jack.
Emma Donoghue extraordinarily accomplished the task of telling an entire story from the perspective of a 5-year-old child. Though other novels have been narrated by children, Room stands out in that the entire novel is narrated from Jack as his present 5-year-old self; never is there a point where his narration is from looking back on his life -- rather, his thoughts and perspectives illustrate the genuine experience of speaking to a young child. Furthermore, the innocence he possesses is on such a completely different level because of the extreme naivete gained from living his entire life in a 12 x 12 room, the only other human interaction being with his mother.
Shortly into Room, Jack's "Ma" devises a plan to escape. She fails to anticipate Jack's resistance, however, as he loves his life and can't imagine why his mother would want it to change. The reader can easily relate to "Ma's" frustration, as her ability to escape relies greatly on Jack's cooperation. While the author never specfically relays this it is assumed Ma has contemplated her plan for a while, waiting until Jack is old enough to understand and carry it out. Both her frustrations and those of Jack's are palpable and create genuine tension. I empathized with Jack for his lack of understanding, but also felt for the mother. How agonizing to finally believe escape is possible only to have the plan dwarfed by her seemingly all-knowing child.
Many elements of this story related to the well-known story of Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped at age 12 and imprisoned for 20 years during which she birthed 2 children. It's as though the author took this news story and contemplated what life must have been like for the children -- the only difference being that Ms. Dugard's children were sometimes exposed to the real world while Jack never was (except via television which Jack never really fully grasped anyway). On the one hand, Jack believed that everything in the television was fake (outside, supermarkets, etc.) yet, on the other hand, he believed the people were real and were speaking to him directly.
A significant element in the story was the relationship between mother and child. This was a powerful facet to the book; however, not any fault of the author's, I think this book will hit home on an even more powerful level for mothers who have sons of their own. While I could certainly empathize as I do with most books I read, I felt that I was missing out what would have had an even more crucial impact on me if I had children. This is not at all to say that those without children won't enjoy the book -- only that those who have experienced this bond may come away from reading this with just that much more.
In Room, Emma Donoghue simultaneously creates a heart-breaking and heart-warming read. Readers will love Jack as I did, and will be enraptured by the world he describes. Reading this book was truly an experience; relish the read because this is one of those that you'll wish you could read again for the first time.
I'd been interested in reading this book since it came out but kept putting it off because I wondered if it would be too similar, for me, to other boo...moreI'd been interested in reading this book since it came out but kept putting it off because I wondered if it would be too similar, for me, to other books I've read recently about the Asian culture. I ended up reading it, though, and am so very glad I did because it quickly became one of my favorite reads this year!! I love, love, loved it!! I absolutely adored this book and the character of Kimberly Chang, the author's techniques in showing us this world, and watching Kimberly grow up.
Girl in Translation tells the story about Kimberly Chang and her mother who move to Brooklyn from Hong Kong in the 1970's. Back in Hong Kong, Kimberly is a very smart girl who excels in school. But due to the language barrier once in New York, Kimberly struggles academically. Her experience as an immigrant to the United States is further thwarted and made difficult by the cultural differences she experiences in school, in her living arrangements, being forced to work "under the table" in a sweatshop, etc. The book starts when Kimberly is in the sixth grade, goes through her experiences in high school, and gives us a snapshot of what happens after that.
The author, Jean Kwok, did a fantastic job of bringing the situation to life. She showed me (and helped immerse me in) the world of an immigrant to the United States. She illustrated the cultural differences and adjustments Kimberly and her mother had to make, as well as the importance in the Asian culture of education and "saving face". She also provided an inspiring character that I loved and rooted for and absolutely admired. At the same time, I felt for her as a child trying to protect her mother while trying to fit in at school.
Another thing I loved was how the author used dialogue between the characters to display some of the Chinese culture. Much of the time, the Asian characters spoke in proverbs and metaphors which was normal (and considered clever) for their language but, interpreted to English, made them even more of outsiders than they were. This too, however, exemplified the significant factors of their culture. The author did a fabulous job of explaining things to the reader while keeping it a part of the story.
Despite the extreme poverty that Kimberly and her mother lived in, and the awful ways they were sometimes treated, they were also very lucky because of Kimberly's motivation and intelligence. I got a an insightful (and scary) glance into what things could be like for many immigrants, especially those who didn't embody the skills and drive that Kimberly did.
I loved everything about this book! At times it reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn -- after all, it's about a young girl coming of age in Brooklyn after her family immigrates to New York. Call it the Asian ATGiB, if you will... especially if that entices you to read this gem! I have been wanting to read this again from the moment I finished!