The plot was a bit of a downer at times and it took me awhile to get into it, but by the end I felt like I knew all the characters and I wanted to fin...moreThe plot was a bit of a downer at times and it took me awhile to get into it, but by the end I felt like I knew all the characters and I wanted to find out what happened next in their lives.(less)
I really enjoyed The Loop, a novel about conflict between wolves, wolf biologists, and ranchers in Montana. Nicholas Evans is an excellent storyteller...moreI really enjoyed The Loop, a novel about conflict between wolves, wolf biologists, and ranchers in Montana. Nicholas Evans is an excellent storyteller; in this book he wrote a compelling plot with interesting and well-drawn characters and landscapes, and he brought everything together in a moving and appropriate ending that had some tragedy but was not wholly, unremittingly tragic. It made for an excellent travel book and I will definitely read more by Evans.(less)
Overall I enjoyed A Widow for One Year, but it wasn't my favorite John Irving. It tended more towards the absurd than some others I've read by him, an...moreOverall I enjoyed A Widow for One Year, but it wasn't my favorite John Irving. It tended more towards the absurd than some others I've read by him, and the plot was winded around without much direction for a long time. I actually got a little bored with it in the middle and didn't feel like I cared that much about the characters. However, by the end, everything came together and I felt that it was a good book in the end.(less)
I thoroughly enjoyed The Kashmir Shawl, by Rosie Thomas, and found that it kept me far more engaged than anything else I've read recently. It is long...moreI thoroughly enjoyed The Kashmir Shawl, by Rosie Thomas, and found that it kept me far more engaged than anything else I've read recently. It is long (over 450 pages) but I read it more quickly than many shorter books because I didn't want to put it down. The story is an "epic romance" and follows two intertwined plot lines: a woman in contemporary time who discovers a beautiful Kashmir shawl when going through her deceased parents' belongings and sets out to discover its origin, and her grandmother who accompanied her missionary husband to Kashmir before and during WWII. Thomas creates interesting, three-dimensional characters and describes both the places and the character's emotions vividly. I almost felt as if I were there in Kashmir, and I felt connected to and cared about the characters. I highly recommend The Kashmir Shawl! I would like to read more by this author but my library does not seem to have any other books by her.(less)
Italian Fever was an enjoyable quick read (I read almost half of it in one evening!) about an American woman who has a romantic whirlwind adventure in...moreItalian Fever was an enjoyable quick read (I read almost half of it in one evening!) about an American woman who has a romantic whirlwind adventure in Italy, with a bit of a gothic twist. The storyline was creative and well-constructed and the descriptions were vivid - I felt as if I were there in the Tuscan countryside and in Rome. Unfortunately, it was not quite the sort of book I was in the mood for, although it managed to engage me well enough in spite of that.
The writing was overall pretty good (as I said, the descriptions were great), but I felt that she overused the rather meaningless phrase that someone's eyes "flashed". Additionally there was an overly long vivid scene of the woman being sick - vomiting and delirious with fever - which seemed rather overdone. In fact, I'd say that many of the scenes were overdone and rather unbelievable and that seemed to be intentional, but I'm not sure it quite worked for me.
I read this book because the library didn't have another book I wanted to read by the author - I will probably still read that other one at some point but I can't say that I am eagerly running out the door looking for more books by her. (less)
I enjoyed The Bookman's Tale, by Charlie Lovett, but I found that it fell a little flat. It tells the story of a young bookseller who discovers an old...moreI enjoyed The Bookman's Tale, by Charlie Lovett, but I found that it fell a little flat. It tells the story of a young bookseller who discovers an old manuscript that might prove the truth about Shakespeare's identity. The plot line was engaging for the most part and the mystery wrapped up very neatly at the end. However, it was rather predictable and I guessed at two key points (although not a third) well before the end. I also found it a bit annoying that the story jumped around in each chapter - essentially there were three separate storylines going on: the present, Peter's college years when he met his wife, and a historical story of this particular manuscript. In some books this works but here I found it didn't add anything and possibly detracted. My final issue with the book is that the storyline with Peter's wife, Amanda, was extremely painful without being really crucial. When I read in the book jacket that the main character was an antiquarian bookseller recovering from his wife's death, I assumed they were an older couple, but in fact they are only in their early 30s when this tragedy occurs. It just struck me as an unnecessarily tragic part of the story.(less)
Contemporary family drama is not often my first choice of genre, but I loved The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown. This novel is about three sisters wh...moreContemporary family drama is not often my first choice of genre, but I loved The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown. This novel is about three sisters who at around age 30 all end up back at their parents' house in a small college town when their mother is diagnosed with cancer. They each come back with secrets and pain and the novel tells the story of how they face those things. But this description of the plot-line doesn't do the book justice: the writing is what makes it top-notch instead of just your average family drama. The story is told in the first person plural (i.e. "we"), from the perspective of all three of the sisters. This is an usual perspective and I can only imagine must be tricky to get right, but it is very effective. Additionally, the author clearly must be an astute observer of people, because she describes their movements and actions so well. I could really picture all of the characters as live people and each was so distinct. Another reason I enjoyed the book so much is that the author managed to transcend the particulars of the characters' personalities and behaviors to convey some underlying common human experiences. I am do not have much in common with the three sisters (other than age), but I still felt as if I could relate to them in some way. Finally, the sisters are from a family of readers (their father is a Shakespearean scholar) and I loved all the references to the way in which reading was simply a way of life for them. In case you can't tell by now, I highly recommend The Weird Sisters!(less)
Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, tells two intertwined stories, that of a French Jewish girl who is arrested with her family at age 10 during World...moreSarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, tells two intertwined stories, that of a French Jewish girl who is arrested with her family at age 10 during World War II, and that of an American woman married to a French man and living in Paris in the 2000s. In the first half of the book, the chapters alternate between the two stories, but in the second half the perspective remains solely with the contemporary story. It is a fairly quick read - I read about half of it on a 2.5 hour plane flight - and overall I mildly enjoyed it, but it did not live up to my expectations based on the "bestseller" hype.
The story of the Jewish girl, Sarah, is immensely painful and essentially does not have a happy ending. It seemed like a fairly accurate portrayal of the reality of the war for many people, but it isn't really something I personally need to be reminded of in such detail. A theme through-out the book is to not forget what happened; I can guarantee you I won't forget, and I didn't need this book to remind me. Still along the lines of the story of Sarah, I found the title a bit misleading. It implied to me that there was going to be a special, perhaps surprising, occurrence related to this key, but it quickly became clear that instead it was predictable and the most painful moment of the story. Clearly I just set myself up with incorrect expectations.
The contemporary story was mildly interesting, but fairly predictable and I didn't find that I especially connected with any of the characters. The ending was satisfying and appropriate to the plot.
Oddly, I find myself thinking of this book as "light" reading, even though it deals with some heavy topics. I am not sure what to make of that, but in any case, it is decent plane or "light" reading if you can handle some intense/painful sections.(less)
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, is an engaging and well-written novel that tells the story of a disparate group of people whose lives overlap, from a...moreBeautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, is an engaging and well-written novel that tells the story of a disparate group of people whose lives overlap, from a young Italian innkeeper in the 1960s to a young woman aspiring to be a film producer in the 2000s. It is difficult to describe the plot line, but it is about more than the plot - it is about human imperfection and the lives we create and dream and live. The writing itself is excellent and a large part of what makes it a good book. The chapters jump around in time and focus on different characters, which I can find quite jarring. However, Walter made it work with writing that quickly engages the reader in whichever story is currently being told. Some of the chapters even felt like they could exist as short stories in their own right. Walter also managed to write a book about heavy topics with a light touch that kept it from being a downer and had plenty of humor. I definitely recommend this book!(less)
This book felt rather uneven; my rating is more like 3.5 stars. The earlier parts of the book moved a little slowly and dwelt too much in detailed tec...moreThis book felt rather uneven; my rating is more like 3.5 stars. The earlier parts of the book moved a little slowly and dwelt too much in detailed techno-babble. Being a programmer, I don't actually usually enjoy reading books that try to go into technical details, because they usually make programming out to be far more romantic and perfect (like getting all sorts of amazing things working in just a few hours) than it really is, and this book was no exception. However, the ending was the savior for the book: it brought everything together really nicely in a way that I did not predict, and left me feeling like I had just been through a meaningful journey in reading this novel.(less)
I enjoyed The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova, but I cannot call it anything better than "good". The main thing that bothered me about it is that i...moreI enjoyed The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova, but I cannot call it anything better than "good". The main thing that bothered me about it is that it has a very long build-up to... not much of anything. For the first half I was completely engrossed (and read a third to half in one day), but then it started to get a little tedious with a lot more detail (and somewhat repetitive) detail than seemed necessary or interesting. However, there continued to be this sense of build-up and mystery that intensified, and thus I was hoping for a really superb ending to tie it all off. Instead, the ending was mainly predictable, short compared to the rest of the book, and didn't really explain the things I most wanted explained.
To go in to slightly more detail on my disappointment with the ending (note: this paragraph may contain spoilers), what I really wanted the book to explain was the artist Robert's obsession. Ok, so there was a historical mystery of sorts and he had a hunch about it that disturbed him. But, that doesn't justify his behavior to me. Why was it so difficult for him to explain to his wife what was going on? Why did he behave in such thoughtless ways towards her? These things were explained in the end simply by both him and the psychiatrist accepting that he was mentally unstable and would likely be on drugs for the rest of his life. I had been expecting a big denouement that explained his behavior more thoroughly, showing that he wasn't really crazy/mentally unstable after all; we just didn't have all the pieces. But no, instead they all just quietly accept that he is unstable and that's that.
On the plus side, I really enjoyed all the discussion of art and painting in the book. It made me both want to paint and go look at good art (especially impressionist paintings, which I love and was a big focus of the book). It is also a fairly quick read for such a long book and mostly does keep moving (although as I mentioned above, I thought it got a bit bogged down in the middle). So overall, mildly enjoyable but not what I would call great.(less)
I did not finish this book. I really liked the idea of it - a story based around the few possessions left from someone's life in the past. However, I...moreI did not finish this book. I really liked the idea of it - a story based around the few possessions left from someone's life in the past. However, I just couldn't get into it. It wasn't bad, I just found it boring. The characters did not interest me. I have some idea that there is a twist of sorts at the ending, but the lead-up to it was so vague that it did not grab me or keep me wanting to know more at all.(less)
Rather disappointingly, I didn't enjoy Riding Lessons nearly as much as the first book I read by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants. Riding Lessons is ab...moreRather disappointingly, I didn't enjoy Riding Lessons nearly as much as the first book I read by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants. Riding Lessons is about a woman who suffered a terrible riding accident in her late teens, cutting off her Olympic ambitions. 20 years later, jobless, getting divorced, and with a difficult teenage daughter, she returns to the family home (where her father is dying) to figure out her life. The book was a quick read and relatively engaging, but I never felt really drawn into the plot the way I did with Water for Elephants. I actually found the main character quite tiresome. She repeatedly does incredibly stupid and irrational things and I felt like shaking some sense into her. The story is told in the first person from her perspective and I didn't feel like the author did it convincingly enough to make me understand why she was acting the way she did.
Since this was Gruen's first novel, that is a good sign that she actually improved as a writer. I will certainly read her fourth novel, Ape House, in the hopes that it is more like Water for Elephants, but I don't know if I will read the sequel to this one, Flying Changes.(less)