Tuesday, April 14, 2015

March Book Review

March started off slow for reading but I ended up reading 9 books in March, putting me at 30 books total for the year so far.  I read some really great books this month but also some not so great books.  I was disappointed in a couple books that I read because I had high expectations but what can you do.

Rating System
5- Loved it! All the feels and flails. New favorite
4- Really liked it
3- Decent.  Could have been better/something missing
2- Would not recommend. Ehh
1- Did not like.  Didn't finish. Gave book away.

Rating: 4

John Irving is one of my favorite authors.  My first Irving novel was The World According to Garp which I read about 10 years ago and still stands as my favorite of his to this day.  In One Person is his newest book and is a classic Irving.  It contained his usual themes like father figure issues, sexual awakening, New England private schools and wrestling.  No bears this time though! 
The novel is written and narrated as an autobiographic story of the "sexual suspect" Billy.  The story spans half a century starting with his first introduction at the town library and to Ms. Frost.  Ms. Frost ends up being the most influential person in his life even though he only knows her for a short time.  The story is very much about his evolution and acceptance of his sexuality.  During a section of the novel, we are exposed to the AIDS crisis during the 80's and the horrific nature of the disease. This is a must read for any Irving fan.
For new readers to John Irving, I would recommend to start with World According to Garp or his more popular fan favorite, A Pray for Owen Meaney.

Rating: 3

Sutter Keely is the life of the party.  He is a senior in high school and living and partying like one. Until he meets Aimee one day when he wakes up on her lawn with no memory of how he ended up there.  Aimee is social awkward and could use the help so Sutter thinks he is doing her a favor by befriending her. 
I thought this was a book I was really going to enjoy but I could not connect with the main character and I actually found myself disliking him towards the end.  Sutter is selfish and a borderline alcoholic.  The whole time in his relationship with Aimee he thinks he is helping her by giving her confidence and social help.  I just couldn't help thinking him as anything more than a tool and I couldn't see how Aimee didn't see that he didn't care about her.  His actions proved it time and again. Aimee as a character was a push over and never stood her ground with him. The ending proved this and I wanted to punch Sutter in the face by the end. I could not connect with any of the characters in this book so for that reason, I gave it a less than favorable rating.  The book has a 4 star rating on Amazon so I can see that I am in the minority of disliking this book.

Rating:  4.5

This was definitely one of the favorite books I read this month.  I still find myself thinking about the story and characters and to me, that is the sign of a great book.
The novel takes place on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i where the quarantined leprosy settlement of Kalaupapa is. This is the story of Rachel who at 7 is taken away from her family and sent to the settlement.  This novel was so heartbreakingly beautiful.  Rachel ends up spending the majority of her life quarantined on this island until a treatment is discovered in the 1970's. Even though she is taken from her family, she ends up making a family of her own while living at Kalaupapa and even marries.  She finds out that she is pregnant and must give her daughter up for adoption due to the regulations of the government.  The way this disease was treated and regulated by the government was so sad.  Instead of being viewed as a disease which should be treated, people sent to Kalaupapa were shunned by their families and viewed as a problem.  The many heartbreaks that Rachel endures is enough to break anyone but only serves to make her stronger.
I was particularly moved by the section where Rachel is able to meet her daughter who she has not seen for more than 20 years when she initially had to give her up. I also enjoyed the Hawaiian folklore that was woven into the narrative.

Rating: 3.5

Judd Foxman's life is falling apart.  He catches his wife in bed with his boss, his father dies and he's newly unemployed. The story begins with his father's death and that his final request was that his family sit shiva.  The story takes place over the 7 day shiva period.  
I was late to the party on this book but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a funny, emotionally raw novel with an honest look at life.  It was funny and sad all at the same time and made me just want to go home and hug my family fiercely.

Rating: 3.5

This was another book that was just so heartbreaking to me.  I love reading about different cultures and religions.  This book centered around the Jewish orthodox faith. The description on Amazon nails it. "A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide". I live in a town that has a large Hasidic Jew population during the summer and I actually felt like this book gave me a behind the scenes look into their life.  Sometimes it's so easy to judge a population when you know nothing about their culture and beliefs. And while there are customs/beliefs that I don't agree with, it was interesting to see that perspective.  I have read books before centered around the Jewish faith but this one had a lot of background on customs especially in regards to "coming of age".
The story is intertwined with two families.  When Josef is 5, he witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanians.  He is rescued and taken care of by their Christian maid.  She poses him as her son to protect him.  A few years later, he rescues a young Jewish girl names Mila from being killed during the war.  She is taken in by a man named Zalman Stern who is a respected leader in the Jewish community.  Mila is "adopted" into the family and Atara becomes her sister.  Mila decides to follow the path that is set before her and is expected of a women in the Jewish community, while Atara is more strong minded and curious. Mila ends up marrying Josef years later. The story centers around the paths and choices they make and how it connects to the Jewish faith, particularly Mila.
The heartbreaking part for me is that characters in this story were punished and denied happiness for the sake of religion.  They were denied their family because of religious laws.  I have such a hard time with accepting that line of belief, that you are not allowed happiness for the rest of your life because of something written in a book ages ago.  And in the case of this book, denied because of some choice your grandmother made. Markovits actually grew up in Satmar community and was asked why she didn't choose to write about someone leaving the faith like she did and she said that she wanted to write about the ones who choose to stay and find solace in religion and how that path is hard as well.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Rating: 2.5-3

This book was actually the inspiration behind the topic from this post. I had high hopes for this book because I have enjoyed Sittenfeld's previous novels but this just fell flat for me and there was a turning point in the plot where I actually became disgusted with the main character.  I had issues with her to being with because she was more concerned with what people thought of her that actually living her life.
Daisy and Violet are identical twins who share a psychic ability.  While Violet fully embraces her gift, Daisy has chosen to hid hers and pretend it doesn't exist.  Violet makes her living as a medium while Daisy is a SAHM. After a minor earthquake happens, Violet goes on national tv declaring that a much larger, stronger earthquake is coming. Daisy or Kate as she has chosen to go by, is mortified while also scared that the premonition is true.  The story leads up to the day that Violet has predicted the earthquake.  On the night of the supposed earthquake, Daisy makes a decision that alters her life. And this is where I was turned off by the book. 
I did initially like the book for the twin aspect because I am an only child.  I like to see the bonds that siblings share because I have never experienced that. I just found the characters in this book so unlikeable. Daisy was so uptight, rigid and prudish while her husband seemed too perfect.  It was hard to connect to Violet, who I actually probably would have liked, but because the story was told from only Daisy's POV, you never really get to know her. Overall, this book was a disappointment.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Rating: 2.5

So I'm ashamed to even admit this but this was my first Vonnegut novel.  I actually own several of his works but this is the first that I have gotten around to reading.  I was so let down by it.  I thought I was going to like, if not love it and it just didn't happen.  There are so many outstanding reviews on this book that I kind of felt like what am I missing?
I did like the satirical, dry and sarcastic prose.  It was more the plot/storyline that I had trouble with.  I don't like to have to read into books or find the meaning behind them and I feel like this is what I was supposed to be doing with this book.  That being said, I will still read Vonnegut's other works because you can't judge an author based on one book.

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve
Rating: 2.5

This was another let down for me but I find as whole, Shreve's books are hit or miss for me.  I really disliked her most popular book, The Pilot's Wife but I have liked several others of hers like Fortune's Rocks and Light on Snow. I didn't know before I read this book that these were part of a loose quartet along with Sea Glass. Body Surfing takes place in the same house as these other books and they even allude to some back history.  Body Surfing takes place after Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife.
Sydney is spending the summer with the Edward's family at their beach house in New Hampshire.  She is tutoring their high school age daughter.  The two Edward's boys arrive for the summer and so begins the love triangle between Sydney and them.
I found this whole plot to be so contrived. It's like we are just supposed to accept that certain events and feelings happened even though there is no lead up or explanation.  The relationship with Jeff, one of the brothers, just appears out of no where.  There was no lead up to it.  All of a sudden he showed up and announced that he had broken up with his girlfriend to date Sydney.  Like what?  This was definitely not Shreve's best work.  If you are new to her, I would not recommend this book as your first introduction.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Rating: 4

I've read all of Hill's books and just finished Horns earlier this year. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel.  While I enjoyed Horns, it wasn't an outstanding book so I wasn't quite sure how this one would be.  If you don't know, Hill is Stephen King's son and I could see some similarities with this and some of King's earlier fiction.
This novel will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It has supernatural elements with just the right amount of creepy.
Victoria McQueen has a knack for finding lost things.  All she has to do is ride her bike over this rickety old bridge and within seconds, it takes her where she needs to go to find the lost item. Charles Talent Manx is the man behind Christmanland where it's Christmas every day but where only child are allowed.  He takes them for a ride in his Rolls Royce Wraith with the vanity license plate NOS4A2 where they are never heard from again.  One day Manx and Vic's paths collide.  She ends up being the only child to ever escape Manx and puts him behind bars. Manx has never stopped thinking about Vic and has set out to seek revenge by taking her son.
I loved the world building and imagination that was put into this novel.  I loved the characters who were all broken in one way or another.  While Manx was evil, the creep award goes to Bing Partridge, his side kick and henchman.  He is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Three Must Reads: Moloka'i, I am Forbidden & NOS4A2
Three to Skip: Sisterland, Body Surfing, Cat's Cradle

Have you read any of these books? Any that you are adding to your must read list?

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  1. I'm going to try Moloka'i and the newest Irving, although I am not a fan of some of his books.

    I think you need to expect some contrived situations in Shreve novels, but I still like her as a writer.

    1. The only one I've read so far that I wasn't a fan of was Until I Find You. If you liked World According to Garp, you will like his new one.
      And yes, Moloka'i! I think that was my stand out for March. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did.

  2. If you have read Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill you really should, it's one of the books I keep on my favorites shelf!

  3. I may have to try the Irving... I never could make it through A Prayer for Owen Meany, but The Cider House Rules is probably my favorite book of all time.

    1. Ack, not Owen Meany-- Until I Find You is the one I couldn't get past chapter 4 on :)

  4. I love all of your reviews- This is Where I Leave You is the only one I've read, but I've seen so many of the others and have wondered if they're worth adding to my tbr list.

  5. I have This Is Where I Leave You on my nightstand. i'm looking forward to it. I've never read anything by any of the others. Moloka'i seems like a book I'd enjoy. And as for John Irving, I've heard of many of his books but have never read them. I think maybe I should.

  6. I read This is Where I Leave You for my book club- I was pretty meh on it, but other girls loved it! I'm reading Girl on A Train right now- its hard to put down!

  7. I LOVED Moloka'i! Such a beautiful, powerful read.

  8. I have never read Vonnegut so don't feel too bad ;) love your rating system and i'm totally adding your must reads to my list.

  9. I've added Moloka'i. And the Tropper book is already on my to read list. I have another Joe Horn book at home waiting to be read Heart-Shaped Box (I think?). It's a little out of my comfort zone, so if I like it, I'll remember to add NOS4A2 as well.

  10. I cheated and watched the movie for This is Where I Leave You, so I am sure the book is just as good. My brother would be so disappointed you didn't like the Kurt Vonnegut book, it's one of his favorite authors.

  11. I think I already have This is Where I Leave You on my Goodreads. Sorry it wasn't a 4 for ya.

  12. My sister just read Moloka'i and recommended it to me. I've got to add it to my list!