My Book Reviews: Rules of Civility

When it’s my month to choose the book for book club, the pressure is on.  I want everyone to love it, to transfer that love to me (Hayley, you have the best taste in books, you are just the best person, etc. etc.)  I’ve had several flops (Hayley, this book was too weird but we still mostly like you), and now I research before suggesting anything.  One of my favorite websites in my search is The Modern Mrs. Darcy, a blog about books that was recommended to me years ago by the famous Lauren Honeycutt.

I picked three recommendations from her blog, and my book club voted for Rules of Civility.

Do you ever read books and sink deep into the given mood?  I’ve read books that were cozy like pumpkin spice and sweaters, some that were beachy and easy, but this book was like re-living a long night in D.C.  I remember being on night shift, unable to sleep at two in the morning, and watching snow fall onto an empty street.

This book was that mood exactly.

Katya (aka Katie, Kate, Katherine) is a smart, capable 20something who meets “Tinker” Grey on a night out with her best friend, Eve.  The two girls engage in some competition over the rich and fabulous gentleman, but Eve eventually wins after she is seriously injured in a car accident–the ultimate pity move.  In her attempts to move on, Kate meets glamorous young friends (think The Great Gatsby) and drinks a lot of champagne.

“Anyone who has ridden the subway twice a day to earn their bread knows how it goes: When you board, you exhibit the same persona you use with your colleagues and acquaintances. You’ve carried it through the turnstile and past the sliding doors, so that your fellow passengers can tell who you are – cocky or cautious, amorous or indifferent, loaded or on the dole. But you find yourself a seat and the train gets under way; it comes to one station and then another; people get off and others get on. And under the influence of the cradlelike rocking of the train, your carefully crafted persona begins to slip away. The super-ego dissolves as your mind begins to wander aimlessly over your cares and your dreams; or better yet, it drifts into ambient hypnosis, where even cares and dreams recede and the peaceful silence of the cosmos pervades.”

Woven throughout are themes from George Washington’s Rules of Civility, hence the title.  My good friend Maureen read this book and raved about the symbolism and imagery in the book.   Listen, I don’t know about all that, but this book was good.  Like cold pizza for breakfast good.

You can thank me later for my magic words.

On a side note, it is about 45 kazillion degrees here.  Thank god the library has the best air conditioning!

signature

Advertisements

My Book Reviews: You Will Know Me

You Will Know Me follows Devon, an ultra competitive high school gymnast and her family.  As a toddler, Devon had a toe traumatically severed by a lawn mower, and used gymnastics to recuperate.  Even then she was described as a natural, a protege.  Her parents can’t help but sacrifice everything to her talent: they take out a second mortgage on the home, they all but neglect Devon’s younger brother.  Every spare minute is dedicated to practicing, and soon talks of the Olympics arise.  In the midst of this cutthroat atmosphere, the boyfriend of one of the coaches is murdered.

41kqzQIBlZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Cabot weaves a dark and complex world of gymnastics worship, with Devon as its idol.

I meant to dip my toe in the world of competitive gymnastics, but Meg Cabot pushed me into the deep end–in a few pages, I was totally immersed.

I didn’t want to like this book; I am totally burnt out of murder stories.  I’m tired of everything being “the next Gone Girl”, or “the next big thriller”.  Often, I am left wanting.  I’m not thrilled by thrillers, not intrigued by mysteries.  I’m bored by all of it.

You Will Know Me was different enough to hold my interest.  The death of the boyfriend was an undercurrent; the over-the-top parenting drove the true plot.  Devon was a weird (in a good way), dark, troubled high schooler.  I loved how fleshed-out each character was.  Overall, this was a fast-paced summer mystery/thriller that I fully enjoyed.

1406_SBR_MeganAbbottAUTHOR-PROMO.jpg.CROP.original-original

For more about You Will Know Me, check out these links:

Interview with Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott discusses her writing process

Buy on Amazon

I’m having a great vacation and loving California.  I hope you all are having a great time, too!

happy reading

 

My Book Reviews: With Malice

Short review: this book was not good.

The premise sounded somewhat interesting:  a girl is accused of killing her best friend over a guy while studying abroad in Italy, but has no memory of the trip.  Very Amanda Knox.

The writing was clumsy, the plot was boring and made no sense, the characters were flat.  I finished it mostly because I was bored.  Jill, the main character struggles with her amnesia, saying:

“I concentrated, trying to recall more, but it was like my brain was constipated.”

For real? You couldn’t think of any better way to phrase this?

bafcce257bf709b2ed1718b3dff46013.jpg

Her characters don’t talk like real teenagers, it’s more like a grandma’s idea of how teenagers speak.  There are several segments featuring online chats where characters say “Gurl”,  “I M here 4 u” and “bee-otch”.  Come on, now.  This sounds like how people wrote emails in the dawn of the internet, when it was still called “the web” and we were all drowning in AOL free trial CDs.

26153925

This book was a nice try that fell flat.

 

 

My Book Reviews: Tiger Lily

Have you guys heard of Overdrive?  It’s kind of the best thing ever: free Kindle books available to borrow through your local library.  Each area has a different Overdrive database, and the one I use belongs to the Navy.  I was a little skeptical when I first set this up; there are only so many Naval biographies you can read before you become so smart that your brain grows too big for your body.  Or something.

Anyway, the NKO (Navy Knowledge Online) Overdrive database has normal books, too.  With really popular books, you sometimes suffer through a waiting list like a real library, but the free e-Book makes it all worth it.

My NKO account has recently started to recommend books to me based on my browsing history, which is enlightening: a lot of Stephen King and random fluff books.  When I saw Tiger Lily on the list, I was both embarrassed and interested.

Do you know people who wear shirts that say “Disney is life”, and collect Tinker Bell keychains?  I’m not one of those.  I love Disneyland as much as the next girl, but I keep my love at normal levels.  I was skeptical about this book because of this: would reading it categorize me as a super duper fan?

Tiger Lily  is a creative retelling of the children’s classic Peter Pan with a focus on the character Tiger Lily.  Tinker Bell narrates.

“He even listened to more than her sounds, because Tiger Lily was a girl of few words. He listened with his eyes, watched her facial expressions, judged body language, and therefore read Tiger Lily better than anyone else.”

Welcome to Neverland where the natives never age, the pirates are more drunk and pathetic than romantic, and the mermaids are vicious man-eaters.  We meet Tiger Lily and her adopted father Tik Tok, both of them feared and misunderstood by the rest of the village.  When an English ship is wrecked on their coast, the tribe votes not to rescue the lone survivor; they are terrified of catching the “aging disease” that causes foreigners to slowly die.  Tiger Lily is the only person willing to go against the authority of her tribe and nurse the sailor back to health.

250px-DisneyTigerLilyPeter.png

On one of her trips to tend to the sailor, she meets Peter Pan and his lost boys (lost because they were child slaves to Captain Hook, and he “lost” them when they escaped his service)  A complicated romance ensues.  Tiger Lily is stoic to a fault and Peter Pan is whimsical and noncommittal.  When a “Wendy-bird” lands on the island, all of their lives are shaken.

This book was probably YA fiction, but I enjoyed it all the same.  The plot followed the Disney movie just enough to be cute, but not over the top.  If you have time on your hands and like Disney at least a little bit, I’d recommend this book to you.  And if it’s available for free on Overdrive, it’s well worth the money.

happy reading.jpg

 

My Book Reviews: Good as Gone

I think I’ve watched every show on Netflix.

Recently, I’ve had to spend a lot of time sitting down attached to a baby, which is a pace that I am not at all used to.  But, on the plus side, I finally have the time to read again!

First up, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while that went on sale briefly for Kindle.  Good as Gone, by Amy Gentry was the perfect first book back after a long hiatus.

The premise is a good one: A family is beginning to give up hope that their kidnapped daughter, Julie, will ever come home when she mysteriously arrives at their door after eight years.  As Julie settles back into life at home, inconsistencies arise in her story.  The family can’t figure it out: why would Julie lie? Is it really Julie?

This was recommended to me as an “unputdownable” book, and it did not disappoint.  For two days, I was glued to the Kindle impatiently trying to put the pieces together.  Proof of how addicting this book was: the baby was asleep, and I was tired, but I stayed up instead to read this book.  That is truly taking your life into your own hands–so worth it for this book!

“If there is something missing—if I am afraid to love her quite as much as before—it is only because the potential for love feels so big and so intense that I fear I will disappear in the expression of it, that it will blow my skin away like clouds and I will be nothing.”

51r-+GWWHmL.jpg

If you like suspense/mystery/thrillers, admittedly a huge genre now, you will enjoy this book.  Read it if for no other reason than the fact that it’s super, super addicting.  Enjoy!

signature

My Book Reviews: East of Eden

Writing a review of East of Eden is a little pointless.  You might as well write a review of chocolate or the blue sky; it is deliciously, unanimously perfect.

Annex - Dean, James (East of Eden)_03.jpg

My Overview

This story follows several characters as they struggle with the choice to be good or evil.

We meet Adam and Charles Trask, two very different brothers competing for the love of their father.  Adam presents his father with a stray dog while Charles fails to impress anyone with his hard-earned present of an expensive knife.  The jealousy festers inside him for his whole life, and the need to be loved by his father turns him violent against Adam.  Cain and Able metaphors abound–their names even start with A and C.

Adam, who embodies goodness, grows up to marry the evil Cathy Ames, who bears him twin sons, then shoots him and leaves.  Adam, who loved Cathy dearly, is cared for by his dear friends Lee, a wise Chinese servant, and Samuel Hamilton, a neighboring farmer.

The twins grow into boys and eventually, into young men.  As they grow, they too struggle, and Caleb becomes jealous of his angelic brother Aron.

Salinas Valley becomes the picturesque backdrop for this biblical conflict, and Steinbeck weaves in pieces of his own childhood with mother Olive.  About East of Eden, Steinbeck says:

“I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.”

My Review

Go read it. Before the movie remake with Jennifer Lawrence.  Just so that in the theater you can go, “Well in the book, it happened this way…”  It really is that good, and also it’s really, really fun to be that person and just annoy everyone.

Whats your take on East of Eden? Have you seen the 1955 James Dean movie?

signature

P.S. I’m in the market for a poolside read! Suggestions?

 

 

 

My Book Reviews: Devil in The White City

After some searching, I’m excited to announce that I found a book club here on island that I really love!  The meeting reminded me of my book club back in Bethesda: sitting around someone’s couch, talking about the book for a little bit, but mostly catching up with each other and enjoying food.  Most importantly, this book club (so far) has similar taste to what I like, and they take turns picking the book.  I love a lot of variety in my reading; like variety in your food, I think it makes you stronger and healthier.  The book for this month was Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, whose work I have read and enjoyed before.

The book follows two developing plotlines: the planning and execution of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and the serial killer H.H. Holmes as he adapts various schemes to find new victims.  The two stories intersect at times, but you find yourself waiting for them to collide in a huge climax.  Because this book is nonfiction, this clean rise and fall never comes.

H._H._Holmes

Larson has a really unique writing style.  He uses letters, interviews, photographs, and whatever he can find to flesh in the details and takes liberty with what nobody could possibly know, ie what the murder victims were thinking in their final moments.  The result is a history book that reads like a thriller; I couldn’t put it down.   Like anyone else, I love a good serial killer, and H.H. Holmes did not disappoint.  Not much is known about Holmes, but Larson paints him as a professional scam artist using the influx of innocent women coming for the fair to his advantage.

The murder-thriller genre has been proven to be one of our country’s favorites.  The book was so much more than that, though.  The Chicago World’s Fair was a marvel that Larson brought to life.  He talked about the invention of the Ferris Wheel, and all of the drama that it took to make it real.  Larson goes on and on like an 1893 tourist brochure.

“They saw even more ungodly things—the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima’s. They sampled a new, oddly flavored gum called Juicy Fruit, and caramel-coated popcorn called Cracker Jack. A new cereal, Shredded Wheat, seemed unlikely to succeed—“shredded doormat,” some called it—but a new beer did well, winning the exposition’s top beer award. Forever afterward, its brewer called it Pabst Blue Ribbon.”

The entire time, I kept thinking to myself, this reads like a movie!  While the men were rushing to create the fair, it didn’t feel like they were going to pull it off.  Each new obstacle seemed larger than the last, and when Holmes appeared in the book, you could practically hear the dun dun dunnnnn…  One quick Google search told me that Leonardo diCaprio is starring as H.H. Holmes in the movie version directed by Martin Scorcese, to be released in 2017! Oh, happy day!

The reviews I read online were mixed.  Most people felt disappointed that the two stories were so disjointed and wished that they came together at the end.  A few people expressed regret that the book was such a “history lesson”.  I completely disagree.

I didn’t mind the fact that the World’s Fair and the Holmes storylines were separated, and I didn’t think it was dry at all.  Larson did a great job bringing this incredible story to life, and I cannot wait to see it in theaters!

ChiCabinet_lg_480x360_FPO.png

On another note, I may be taking a little Christmas break from posting as we will be away for the holidays this year.  I hope that you all have a safe and cozy holiday!  Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

 

Love Letters to the Dead

Today, I’m really excited to share with you guys what I’m currently reading: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira.

1cf37c324577977c6632a67865c0000f_400x400

I was a little burnt out after a string of serious books and craving some YA fiction, so after seeing Love Letters to the Dead mentioned on Buzzfeed, I went for it!

Dellaira’s main character, Laurel, is a beautiful misfit who recently transferred to a new school after her older sister died a tragically young death.  On her first day of school, Laurel is assigned an interesting project–write a letter to someone who has died; she chooses Kurt Cobain.  Instead of stopping there, Laurel continues to write to more of her lost too young heroes: River Phoenix, Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland.  Through the letters, she is able to open up about her life at a new school and her grief about her sister.

The reviews for the book were split: half were the instant YA “fandom” with rave reviews, and half were disappointed that Laurel wasn’t a more complex character.  They complained that her young love was too sappy, that the letters were too predictable.

Personally, I love books like this for what they are.  I don’t go looking for any huge meaning in young adult novels, although this one touched on some issues (sexuality, death, first love).

Each time I read about high school, I try my hardest to remember if it really was all that big of a deal.  Laurel’s first love is her whole entire world.  Her best friends are her life. I remember feelings things that intensely, but I truly can’t imagine it now.

One of the reasons I love coming-of-age novels is that they acknowledge the experiences of these intense feelings, and feel none of the shame that we do as adults.  It’s like having a burger and a big chocolate shake, before calories were a thing.

Thank you, Ava Dellaira, for this taste of American high school love, adventure, and grief.  It was absolutely delicious.

Weekend Update

Pro tip: If you never sleep, you have way more time for activities!

I’m currently reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and one of the tasks she asks you to do is to track what you do with your time.  Currently, my schedule is a little bit thrown off because I just switched over to night shift, and I’ve always had trouble sleeping during the day.  One of the benefits to sleeping 3-4 hours is that I have a lot more time on my hands, just less energy to fill those hours.  Thank god for good coffee!

In the book, she interviews all of these highly successful people who are able to cram in ten minutes of family time as they commute to work and things like that.  I like that no time is wasted, but it also sounds exhausting (totally possible that I might just be craving a good night’s sleep at night)  I’m going to move at my own pace and use my time as effectively as I can without burning out.  Speaking of burning out, I had the most relaxing weekend.

It’s always exciting when Carl and I are both free.  I walked in the door after work, blinked, and woke up six hours later on the couch to him laughing at me.  I was totally disoriented–I had been dreaming about swimming in a lake on a foreign planet.

He shook me back to Earth, yelling that we were burning daylight! He had a point, so I changed out of my work clothes from the night before and got dressed for a new day.  

Still half asleep, I was herded into the car.  My attempts to figure out where we were going were shot down; Carl had a plan.  I gave up quickly and fell back asleep, but firmly demanded sushi.  You guys, night shift makes me weird.

We got out at Shurijo Castle Park and spent the evening exploring its ponds, paths and shrines.  We watched some really cute kids playing badminton/soccer/softball and laughed at how much energy they had.  Finally, after what seemed like years, we had a sushi dinner and slept.

Thanks Carl, for this beautiful photo.

IMG_1691

Sunday morning, Carl had a meeting, so I started my morning with some online yoga.  It’s hard to believe that it’s really November here, because it was 70s and sunny all day–absolutely gorgeous!  I’m trying to get in the fall spirit with the occasional squash recipe here or carrot cake oatmeal there.

IMG_1695

We went to a local DIY store and bought a ton of stuff for our little garden in the backyard, then cut the lawn.  The garden is doing so, so good thanks to farmer Carl!

IMG_1692

We have tiny spinach sprouts, tomatoes, tangerines, peppers, and an herb garden with basil, rosemary, cilantro, and mint.  Can’t wait to eat it all!  It was a really relaxing day.  I loved to be out there repotting some plants that had gotten too big and just to be working together out in the sun.

When we were finished, we just looked at the yard for a while from our back porch.  Our next-door neighbor peeked over the fence and gave us a big thumbs-up.  The whole scene felt like perfection.

Can I just stay here for the rest of my life, or…?

I guess it’s back to work for me.  Night shift, you win this time.

Continue reading

My Book Reviews: Not That Kind of Girl

I’ll make this review short because I don’t even want to admit how much time I wasted on this book, I wouldn’t want to waste any of yours.

Also, my battery is dying and I’m thirsty.  So.

I had seen Not That Kind of Girl described online as “hilarious” and “quirky”.  Lena Dunham was supposedly this huge voice of feminism because of her show, Girls, which I had seen on a flight, and had thought was okay.  After reading Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, I was in.  I was on an audiobook kick, and was loving hearing these comedy giants talk to me about their lives.  They had really done things worth talking about, and their books were entertaining.

Dunham’s book, in contrast, was incredibly boring and self-involved.  She spent an entire chapter talking about her issues with body image, and to prove it, she listed every single thing she ate for a WEEK, complete with calories.

She talked about things she said to her child therapist at age nine, and all of her childhood fears, so scared to blah blah blah.. I couldn’t stomach it anymore.  Honestly, I wouldn’t listen to a friend tell me these things, let alone pay for a “celebrity” to tell me these things.  Why is this woman famous?  Because she wrote a boring TV show about boring, pointless things?  This entire book was disappointing.

My advice on this book? Save your money, and re-read Bossypants. It’s okay if it’s the fifth time.

Currently Reading: Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling

“Who is the beauty icon that inspires you the most? Is it Sophia Loren? Audrey Hepburn? Halle Berry? Mine is Nosferatu, because that vampire taught me my number-one and number-two favorite beauty tricks of all time: avoid the sun at all costs and always try to appear shrouded in shadows.”

mkaling