Playing Catch-Up

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Who said Christmas was the busiest time of year? I don't know about you, but April has been madness around here. However, I like to have all my books reviewed -- after all, I did take the time of reading them, and some of them were provided me for free. There will be no pretty images today, but here are some snippets on the last three books I read.

A Million Little Snowflakes by Logan Byrne

Guys, this one was not for me. And I had high hopes for it (don't we always). This is the story of a high school student who is taken to a psychiatric ward by his father after he states that he wants to kill himself. And of course, in the psychiatric ward, he meets someone and falls in love. The concept of this was so intriguing to me, especially as I've worked in a mental health facility and seen people fall for each other (at times with disastrous consequences). However, this book didn't do it for me. I was frustrated from the beginning with the writing style, which tended to give a play-by-play of every thought in the main character, Oliver's, head, as well as making bizarre metaphors and comparisons. But the end sealed the deal for me. I'm sure there was something artistic about its suddenness and (abrupt) existentialism. But I didn't get it.

1 star

Warnings: Language, sensuality (off the page), mature themes

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

This book was a little outside my normal reading faire, but it was recommended by a patient's mother so I felt like I should read it, and I ended up being pretty entertained by it. Lexi is leading a frazzled life much like the rest of us -- until she wakes up one day and finds that her life is three years forward from her last memory and everything has changed, from her teeth and body shape to her relationship status (married!) and financial status (millionaire!). Lexi feels pretty good about the way everything has turned out, but can't figure out how she went from the "snaggletooth" under appreciated flooring sales associate to the queen of the company. As she finds out, she realizes she has lost less of herself than she thought.

I liked this one. Like I said, it was pretty entertaining and there were a few "awww" moments. Sometimes it's nice to read something a bit fluffy and relaxing.

3 stars

Warnings: Some sensuality (mostly off page, no anatomy), profanity

Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage by the Dargers

I had to read this when I heard of it. I mean, seriously, who hasn't wondered how a situation like that actually works out without the wives killing each other (or their husband)? And as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which doesn't practice polygamy, in case you are wondering) I was curious about this group of people that went in a different direction and what they believe. So when I saw the book on sale, I snagged it.

And I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it! I was expecting to be pretty disturbed by all of it. There were plenty of things that I found myself thinking, "I'm so glad that I don't share my husband with another woman," but there were also plenty of insights that the Dargers had into love, marriage, and family that were pretty profound. At the core of their polygamous marriage is putting others first and holding back selfishness, which I think would be particularly trying in a situation with multiple women sharing one man and in the Dargers' case, one home as well. I can see how that would bring personal growth. And while I'm certainly not planning on adding another woman to our home, I feel like I learned something about putting the other people in my (considerably smaller) family before myself from the Dargers.

Not to mention the fact that their situation is a little bizarre and it was pretty interesting to learn about it. So, while I obviously was interested in the book before I read it, it surpassed my expectations. I certainly don't want to emulate their lifestyle, but it was interesting to learn about it.

4 stars

Warnings: Some references to bedroom arrangements but nothing detailed

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Mad Scientist's Daughter is about a girl who falls in love with her father's assistant, who is also her tutor. Who is also a robot. Set in the future, in a world where AI is becoming prevalent and android rights are a political hot button, Cat develops a friendship with Finn, an android who is more human-like than most. However, the differences between them (aka, the fact that Finn is not human, or technically alive) drive them apart, leaving Cat to figure out what she wants in life.

This book was gorgeously written and heartbreakingly beautiful. As beautiful as that cover. If you're like me, when you hear the words "robot" your thoughts go to a funky, mechanical creature with a monotone voice. However, there was nothing cheesy or hokey about The Mad Scientist's Daughter. The love story is not only plausible but touching.

The characters are fallible and broken, making selfish decisions out of hurt and fear; however, the humanness of them all (yes, even Finn) keeps them from being unlikable. There is also extensive development that takes place -- they learn, make mistakes, and grow, leading to a satisfying ending.

Clarke's writing glows in The Mad Scientist's Daughter. Her imagery is gorgeous and vivid. Her dialogues are evocative. I was feeling and crying with these characters as they tried to patch together their lives and find the truth about one another.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a perfect crossover book. The writing and themes make it worthy of being called literary fiction, the robot/futuristic element ties it to science fiction, and the love story clearly links it to romance. This unique book was gorgeous and a worthwhile read.

4 stars

Warnings: A few scenes of sensuality, language, a scene of abuse

Night by Elie Wiesel

Monday, March 31, 2014

Night by Elie Wiesel was my classics spin book, and I am happy to report I finished it in time! Hooray.

Many of you probably read Night in high school, but for those who didn't (like me)... it is the Nobel Peace Prize winning account of Wiesel's experience in the concentration camps.

There isn't much I can say about a book that takes place in a concentration camp that hasn't already been said. Harrowing. Dehumanizing. I couldn't read more than a few pages of this book at a time or I would get depressed and anxious. Night is a symbol of the darkness and loss of hope Wiesel experienced in the camp, and it is palpable and penetrating throughout the book.

I think the way that Night differs from many of the Holocaust books I've read (and I've read a few -- I had an Anne Frank obsession in high school) is the starkness of the detail. When Wiesel is running ceaselessly in the night, I felt the burning in my own lungs. He spares no details. The last lines he writes, when he has been rescued and sees himself in the mirror for the first time and says a corpse looks back at him, will probably shudder in my memory forever. His writing is simple and powerful.

I also was impacted by the theme of father and son trying to stay together but constantly being dehumanized and betraying each other. We see pair after pair of father and son being torn apart, or the son abandoning the father in his desire to survive. We see Wiesel struggle to be faithful to his father and keep him alive, but we also see, in his blatant honesty, the way the desire to survive starts to fray at his love and faith.

Night was by no means an enjoyable book to read. It sits heavy in your mind and heart and I have a feeling that heaviness will continue even though I've now read through it. However, it is worthwhile -- worthwhile to remember those that suffered in the Holocaust, worthwhile to see what the human soul can survive. It is definitely a book I will remember.

4 stars

Warnings: Violence and disturbing images

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Monday, March 24, 2014

This concise little gem is the story of A.J. Fikry, a widower and bookstore owner drinking himself into an early death until a little girl is mysteriously dropped off in his bookstore. She leads him into a new life just when he thought his life was ending. Told with references to short stories in every chapter, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a lovely little story about life's surprises.

I think concept books like this tend to triumph or fall flat -- there is rarely a middle ground. This one triumphs. We get snapshots of A.J.'s life, and the book is short, but the snapshots expose just enough to be illuminating. In addition, A.J. Fikry's life is bizarre enough to be interesting; normal enough to be believable.

The writing is beautiful and the book love is palpable. And you know how us bookish types love to read about other bookish types. I was actually unfamiliar with all of the short stories referenced in the book and am now going through them slowly, and slowly seeing how they further beautify the book. I know it would never happen with copyright laws, but it would be truly awesome to have a book that alternates the stories with the chapters.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a short, beautiful love letter to books and a tale of an extraordinary (and also ordinary) life. If you are a book lover or literary fiction fan, I think you will enjoy it.

4 stars

Warnings: Profanity, off-the-page sensuality

Once Upon a Time VIII

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's time again for Once Upon a Time! Hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, it runs now until June 21 and is a celebration of fantasy, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

I am hoping to participate in "Quest the First" -- reading five books in the categories. Here are my picks:

1. Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Phillip Pullman
2. Hood by Stephen Lawhead
3. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
4. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
5. Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier (and Twixt Firelight and Water, the novella, too)

Hoping to jam through all of these!

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Plain Kate by Erin Bow is about a girl named Kate who is an amazing wood carver like her father. She is happy working with her father and they lead a good life together... until he dies of a terrible epidemic that has been sweeping their superstitious country. Suddenly, people are being burned as witches and accusations are flying. While living in extreme poverty, a stranger begins making deals with her... but they lead her to be accused of witchcraft herself. Soon Plain Kate is on a journey to stop the stranger and see if there is anywhere she can be loved.

I am not usually a fan of middle grade fiction. There are a few novels I have loved, but for the most part I haven't been a fan. However, Plain Kate is incredible. I had my doubts about it from the age level it was written for, but honestly, I think anyone who loves fantasy will be swept up in this book. It reminded me of Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone series in setting and Franny Billingsley's Chime in tone (and if you have been reading the blog for a long time you know those are high words of praise).

What did I love about it? First of all, the setting was unique, mystical and dark and absolutely haunting. The world building was so powerful. The magical rules of witchcraft were also fascinating -- witches could do great evil or great good, healing or bringing people back from the dead. Also, witches couldn't lie, which put an interesting spin on everything.

I also loved the characters. They were vivid, complex, and unforgettable. Our heroine is also the cause of much of the destruction in the story. Our villain has moments of great compassion, and his entire enterprise is built out of misled love. Also, there is Taggle, a talking cat, who is amazing. Usually I am annoyed by animals that talk in people books (animals talking in animal books, like Redwall, is different and okay). However, Taggle is hilarious. He isn't a friendly familiar that talks like a human. He is a complete and utter cat, and hearing his voice is delightful. He alone makes Plain Kate worth the read.

If you couldn't tell, I loved this book. It is going on my list of "books I want to own a copy of," because I want my kids to read this book. If you like fantasy at all, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Plain Kate.

4.5 stars

Warnings: Violence and disturbing images

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

I've been hearing buzz about The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin since I first started blogging. There was a time in my life when I disdained self-help books, but that time has long since passed (and you should see some of the things I request on NetGalley, home of the most obscure and bizarre collection of self-help books known to man). With the stresses of work and home, I found myself thinking that I could use a little recharge and put The Happiness Project on hold at the library.

Most of the self-help books I've read in the past are pretty heavily biased. I can usually find a pearl or two, but usually with many caveats. The Happiness Project is very different. Rubin begins by saying that this is her happiness project, and that ours might be very different, but that this is what she did in order to plan to achieve greater happiness in life. That beginning attitude of not knowing it all but being willing to share really endeared the author to me.

The premise of the happiness project is that the author, Gretchen Rubin, began to feel that she wasn't living at her fullest potential of happiness. She had an abundant life but she often found herself griping and complaining, or feeling unsatisfied. She wasn't depressed -- she just wasn't as happy as she felt she should be. So she made a plan, being a very plan-oriented, goal-specific person (seriously. I don't think I've ever met or read someone as organized as this woman). She chose an area of her life to focus on each month for a year and made specific resolutions in those categories. She also read several books on happiness and applied the studies and information she gleaned.

The result is remarkable. She hits upon many areas that I (and I'm sure many others) need to improve upon, and she uses great reminders and quotes to drive the point home. Basically, I want to do my own happiness project, although I want to let the book sink in for a while and possibly read her other happiness-based book, Happier at Home, before I completely delve in.

I think The Happiness Project has something to offer anyone, whether or not Rubin's specific resolutions are what you would like to change in your life. Written with vibrance and honesty, this journey through a year in a woman's life is eye-opening, positive, and poignant. Go read it! Now!

5 stars

Warnings: I think there are maybe 2 minor swears. If you're offended by this book, you hate happiness (just kidding).

Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bridget Jones' Diary was our read for book club in February. It is a spin-off of Pride and Prejudice (win win win) told in a diary format by the weight-obsessed, striving-for-self-improvement (but never achieving), single Bridget Jones. She finds herself torn between the handsome, sexy, and possibly slimy boss for a boyfriend and the stiff, overly perfect, awkward but maybe handsome Mark Darcy. And of course, because this is a spinoff of P&P, she has a CRAZY family.

This was a quick read. It was entertaining. Bridget had moments where she irritated me (very neurotic, drinking herself into a stupor, making bad decisions) but she is also relatable in her honesty and imperfections. The Pride and Prejudice connection was at times tenuous, but it was fun to try and make the connections. And I appreciated that she talked about the BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series.

I don't find I have over-much to say about it -- but it was a fun read and what I needed after a rough couple of days at work. I'll probably read the rest of the series.

3.5 stars

Warnings: Language, innuendo
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