Girls in White Dresses [Book Review]

TitleGirls in White Dresses
Author: Jennifer Close
Genre: Short Stories; Women’s Fiction
Pages: 304
Year: 2011
Publisher: Knopf
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 5/5

Publisher’s Summary:

Isabella, Mary, and Lauren feel like everyone they know is getting married. On Sunday after Sunday, at bridal shower after bridal shower, they coo over toasters, collect ribbons and wrapping paper, eat minuscule sandwiches and cakes. They wear pastel dresses and drink champagne by the case, but amid the celebration these women have their own lives to contend with: Isabella is working a dead-end job, Mary is dating a nice guy with an awful mother, and Lauren is waitressing at a midtown bar and wondering why she’s attracted to the sleazy bartender.

My Thoughts:

You guys, this book.

I haven’t so thoroughly enjoyed a book like I enjoyed this one in ages.  I would yell at you all for not making me read it sooner, but you all tried. Jen even sent me a copy. THREE YEARS AGO.

I thought this would be a novel, but this is really a book of inter-related short stories (along the lines of The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing). Which made it even lovelier. I love a good short story collection.

The characters were well-developed, realistic, and relatable. I wanted to be friends with them. It made me wish I had moved to New York City after college and lived in a crappy apartment and dated the wrong guys. It was like Sex and the City when Sex and the City was at its best.

If you’ve left this one lingering on your shelf, like I did, you are making a mistake.

****

What book did you wait too long to read? What book has been waiting patiently on your shelves for you?

Hemingway’s Girl [Book Review]

Title: Hemingway’s Girl
Author: Erika Robuck
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Year: 2012
Publisher: Thorndike Press
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 1/5

Summary (from publisher):

In Depression-era Key West, Mariella Bennet, the daughter of an American fisherman and a Cuban woman, knows hunger. Her struggle to support her family following her father’s death leads her to a bar and bordello, where she bets on a risky boxing match…and attracts the interest of two men: world-famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, and Gavin Murray, one of the WWI veterans who are laboring to build the Overseas Highway. 
 
When Mariella is hired as a maid by Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, she enters a rarified world of lavish, celebrity-filled dinner parties and elaborate off-island excursions. As she becomes caught up in the tensions and excesses of the Hemingway household, the attentions of the larger-than-life writer become a dangerous temptation…even as straightforward Gavin Murray draws her back to what matters most.  Will she cross an invisible line with the volatile Hemingway, or find a way to claim her own dreams?  As a massive hurricane bears down on Key West, Mariella faces some harsh truths…and the possibility of losing everything she loves.

My Thoughts:

So this book and I didn’t really get along. I wanted to love it, so I kept reading when I probably should have put it down. But I read it painfully slowly. And even put it down for an entire year with less than 100 page to go. Very odd behavior for me as I will usually either DNF a book pretty quickly or push through.

I swear I had notes lying around somewhere, but they must have gone missing during the year and a half I was reading.

I think the problem is that I didn’t connect with Mariella. I didn’t really feel the attraction between her and Hemingway (perhaps because they call each other “papa” and “daughter”). And I didn’t feel the love at all between her and Gavin.

It was also one of those books where I felt like things were over-explained. My rule: either tell me something or show me something, but don’t do both.

This book and I did not click. But some other bloggers I trust adored it. So check out their reviews before taking my word for it: Anita Loves Books (5/5 stars); Devourer of Books (Highly Recommended); Jenn’s Bookshelves (Highly, Highly Recommended).

Runaways [Book Review]

Title: Runaways (Complete Vol. 1 Collection – 2003 issues 1-18)
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Genre: Comic Book
Pages: 448
Year: 2003
Publisher: Marvel
Source: Public Library
Rating: 4/5

Summary (from Amazon):

They were six normal teenagers linked only by their wealthy parents’ annual business meeting…until a chance discovery revealed the shocking truth: their parents are the secret criminal society known as the Pride! For years, the Pride controlled all criminal acti vity in Los Angeles, ruling the city with an iron fist…and now, with their true natures exposed, the Pride will take any measures necessary to protect their organizati on – even if it means taking out their own children! Now on the run from their villainous parents, Nico, Chase, Karolina, Gertrude, Molly and Alex have only each other to rely on.

My Thoughts:

I am 31 years old and this is the first comic book I have ever read. Swapna mentioned it on twitter one day and a few other people chimed in to recommend it and the next thing I knew, I was reading a comic book.

And enjoying it.

Runaways is funny and dramatic and witty. It captures the feeling of being a teenager and learning that your parents are not infallible and takes it to an extreme. They fight, they kiss, they complain, they make hasty decisions, and they think they can do things they shouldn’t be able to do.

But although the teens live inside the Marvel universe, where super heroes and super villains are everyday figures, finding out that your parents are the ringleaders of the bad guys is still shocking, so I can cut them a little slack.

I am pretty sure this volume included both a West Wing and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. So, naturally, I will be reading on.

The Story Hour [Book Review]

Title: The Story Hour
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Year: 2014
Publisher: Harper
Source: Review copy from publisher
Rating: 4/5

Summary:

When Lakshmi’s only friend moves to California, she decides to kill herself, intending to leave behind the husband who doesn’t love her and brought her to America from India. But she wakes up in the hospital and her mental health is turned over to her therapist, Maggie.  Maggie, who is married to an Indian-American, finds that she cannot leave Lakshmi to return to her old life and prescribes a weekly therapy session with her. What unfolds is an unconventional story of friendship, betrayal, love, and passion.

My Thoughts:

First, the title is a bit misleading. I thought there would be a bigger focus on the actual hour Lakshmi was in therapy with Maggie. I thought there would be even more stories of Lakshmi back in India. I thought it would be a happy story about Lakshmi teaching Maggie as much as Maggie taught her. It was not.

However, that does not mean that I did not enjoy the book. Although I found Maggie unlikeable, I was so intrigued by Lakshmi, that I was able to overlook it. The book tells their stories, but also forces the reader to look at culture, gender, race, class, ethics, and how we relate to people unlike us. It doesn’t shy away from real issues and it doesn’t sugar coat them.

The book did not go in any of the directions I kept expecting it to go, but as I approached the end, I knew there was may too much to resolve than there were pages remaining and I grew anxious. It turns out that anxiety was justified. If you want a perfectly wrapped up story, this one is not for you. If you don’t mind unanswered questions and untold stories, then go right ahead with it.

Thrity Umrigar is a talented storyteller and The Story Hour is worth a read.

We Were Liars [Book Review]

TitleWe Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: Contemporary YA
Pages: 240
Year: 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 4.5/5

Summary:

The wealthy Sinclair family summers on their private island on Cape Cod. But when she was 15, after her parents got divorced, Candace suffered a mysterious accident and she hasn’t been back since. Now she is 18 and itching to return to the idyllic days of running around the island with her cousins, the “Liars.” But things are not so idyllic anymore.

My Thoughts:

This book was ADDICTIVE, a read-it-in-one-sitting book.

I would have given it the full 5 stars if my reading experience wasn’t slightly marred by the very campaign attempting to prevent the marring.

This is not just excellent YA. It is excellent storytelling. E. Lockhart is simply a fantastic storyteller. I am pushing We Were Liars on everyone. Including you. Go read it right now.

Buy It Now

This Side of Salvation [Book Review]

TitleThis Side of Salvation
Author: Jere Smith-Ready
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Pages: 384
Year: 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Public Library
Rating: 5/5

Summary:

After David’s brother died, his family got religious. And then his parents got SUPER religious and joined up with a group of people who believe in the Rush – the rapture at a specific time and place. David doesn’t buy it and neither does his sister. But when they come back from an after-prom party the night of the alleged Rush, they find their parents gone. The two, along with David’s best friend and girlfriend go on a search, while – in alternating chapters – we learn exactly how they got to this point.

My Thoughts:

This book solidified my love of Jeri Smith-Ready. You all know I adored her Shade series. But, it turns out she can write about more than ghosts and solstices.

This book stays engaging by alternating between the past and the present. I would finish one chapter and just keep going with the next and the next. It was a perfect read to cope with this year-long reading slump.

I loved David. I loved Bailey. I loved Mara. The parents drove me crazy. The teenage angst was perfect. The conflicted relationships with God were realistic. I simply loved this story.

I hope you all check this out. I know Jeri’s Shade series wasn’t for everyone, but this book is. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

Madame Bovary [Audiobook Review]


Title: Madame Bovary
Author: Gustave Flaubert
Narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Classic
Pages: 384 pages
Audio: 13.8
Year: Original – 1856 | Edition – 2010
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 1.5/5
Audio Rating: 4/5

Summary:

Charles Bovary had a tough childhood but he eventually becomes a doctor anyway. Sort of. He gets married to a girl but he falls for another. Lucky for him, Madame Bovary number one dies and he can marry Madame Bovary number two. But, she’s not quite as crazy about him as he is about her. And she feels pretty stifled in her country life. So she cheats on him. A lot. And it doesn’t end well.

My Thoughts:

Ugh. This book. I don’t get it – why are we still reading this?

Perhaps I am not intelligent or cultured or patient enough to appreciate how amazing this novel is. The wikipedia entry for Madame Bovary states: “Long established as one of the greatest novels ever written, the book has often been described as a “perfect” work of fiction.” 

I disagree.

Vehemently.

I can understand why, at the time it was written, this book would have been shocking. But how can it still be so widely read and highly regarded 150 years later?

It’s boring. I actually have no idea how a book about adultery can be this boring. I was listening to this one when I was training for my 10k and it actually made my long runs even worse.

Beyond the fact that it is really boring and the characters were miserable companions for 14 hours of my life, I don’t have much else to say. If you want my opinion, find another classic to read. If you want an adulteress, go with Anna Karenina – it’s well worth the additional pages.

Audiobook Thoughts:

The audiobook was fine. I have no complaints. And I certainly wouldn’t have finished this thing in print.

Siren’s Song [Book Review]

Title: Siren’s Song
Author: Heather McCollum
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Pages: 376
Year: 2014
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Source: Review Copy from NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Summary:

Jule has always had a mesmerizing voice, just like her mother. When Luke moves to town, the two are immediately attracted to each other. But her voice, instead of its usual spellbinding effect, causes only anger and violence in Luke. When Luke comes clean about his real history, Jule finds herself caught in a 200-year-old tale, desperate to hold on to Luke and to end an awful curse.

My Thoughts:

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It was unique for me – I don’t think I’ve read a book about a siren before and the paranormal backstory/mythology is really interesting.

While the topic was unique, this one did have some similarities to Twilight: girl has crush on boy who can’t seem to figure out whether to love her or kill her. It even – in what I hope was an intentional tongue-and-cheek moment – quotes it at one point. So if you like Twilight – and I won’t make you raise your hand if you do – you might like this one.

While the Luke-Jule relationship was certainly central to the book, I think my favorite aspect of the book was the powerful friendship between Jule and her best friend, Carly. Although it wavers for a moment, the bond between these two is unbreakable. This is actually one thing I loved (and miss) about high school – that amazing level of friendship that only teenage girls seem capable of, and I love finding YA books that capture this.

One possible con – I occasionally got an abusive relationship vibe from this one. Luke – because of the curse and because of his growing strength – actually harms Jule at times and it made me a little uncomfortable when she wasn’t upset by this (and that she was okay with a boy silencing her voice). But I seem to be the only person on the internet that feels this way so maybe I am being a little oversensitive.

Despite this, I can definitely recommend Siren’s Song If you’re looking for a new paranormal YA novel.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters [Audiobook Review]

Read my reviews of the first two books: Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Days of Blood & Starlight.

 

Title: Dreams of Gods & Monsters
Author:  Laini Taylor
NarratorKhristine Hvam
Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult; Supernatural
Pages: 624
Audio: 18.2 hours
Year: 2014
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Source: Review copy from publisher
Book Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

[Warning: Don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the rest of the first two book. The remaining sections are spoiler free].

Karou is still trying to find a way to move past Akiva’s destruction of her family, but the two must work together to unite the Misbegotten and Chimera forces to stop Jael from destroying Earth.

As Jael descends on the Vatican, with anything but angelic intentions, Eliza Jones, a PhD student with a past she’s been running from for years, must fight off her always-recurring dream of monsters.

As world’s collide, enemies become allies, and the real past, the one that everyone but Razgut has forgotten, must be told in order to protect the future of both Earth and Eretz

My Thoughts:

This is a rare day: I loved the finale of a series that is very dear to me.

First, these have got to be among some of the best-titled books ever. Daughter of Smoke & Bone? Days of Blood & Starlight? Dreams of Gods & Monsters? Fantastic, catchy, and appropriate.

As for the actual books, I just ate them right up. There is so much action, emotion, and tension packed into every page (or every minute of the mp3 in my case) that it forces the reader to race on. These are not short books (this audio is more than 18 hours long!) but practically every word is necessary. Taylor does write with a descriptive style, but not to the point where you’re asking the story to move along already.

The only fault I found in this one – and I felt it in the others as well – is that it jumps around from POV to POV a lot. I had to listen closely for fear of getting lost along the way and there was a fair amount of rewinding.

I am going to miss Karou and Akiva and Zuzana and Mik and Ziri. I am going to miss Eretz. I am a little devastated (if one can be a little devastated) that I don’t have another book to look forward to. But, did the ending hint at the possibility of more? I’m going to rest my hope on that.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Kristine Hvam is probably my favorite narrator. She continues to excel in the conclusion of this trilogy. She captures everyone, from human to angel to chimera perfectly. She is the kind of narrator who could make me pick up an otherwise questionable book.

Three Little Reviews: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Astray, and Inferno

I still have three unreviewed books from last year that have been lingering in my “drafts” section. As it is nearly June, I think it’s best to say a few sentences about each and move on.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

I was not a big fan of JK Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter novel, so when the world found out she’d secretly written a second, I didn’t jump up and down with joy. My book club ended up reading this one, so I picked up the audio. It’s the not the type of book I would usually read, but I ended up enjoying this one. I still want more Harry Potter, but Detective Strike wasn’t a bad companion.

Astray

Jen at Devourer of Books recommended this to me and I always sometimes listen to her. I read it more recently than The Cuckoo’s Calling, but it feels like I read it ages ago and I only have a lingering memory of this one. It was sad. Heartbreaking, really. But good. Emma Donoghue is for real.

Inferno

Oh, Dan Brown. While I have read many of his books, I skipped his last one and had no intention of reading Inferno. But this was another book club pick. It was set, in part, in Florence and Venice, which I visited a few years ago, so that made it fun. I’ve grown a little tired of the Dan Brown formula, but his books can still mostly entertain.

*****

And now I feel better having that crossed off my to do list.