Tag Archive | fiction

Book Review: The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, was another book club pick…

In 1995, back when email was a new thing, Harvard freshman Selin, a young Turkish-American woman, sets about to discover herself.  She navigates dorm life, takes classes in subjects she never imagined herself studying, and begins meeting new friends.

It all sounds like the beginning of a fabulous adventure, because who wouldn’t expect a novel about college life to be filled with fun and frivolity.  Except this one isn’t.

The Idiot is basically a story about what happens when people are so smart that they can’t actually relate to the real world.  Her conversations with others barely touch on subjects that normal 18 year olds would discuss, instead opting for the nonsensical ramblings of a genius with no real-life experience.

Selin bumbles along, disliking her roommate without ever having a conversation, falling in love and getting her heart broken via email without seeming to display any emotion, and never really finding any joy or sorrow in her surroundings.  The best way to describe her life is academic.

I kept waiting for this book to get better, because a friend said her mother told her it was funny.  I wonder now if she meant funny in the ironic sense.  At any rate, this book, for me, did not contain any funny.  It also didn’t contain any emotion at all…

1 star.

Book Review: The Murderer’s Daughters

The Murderer’s Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers, was a book club pick, and I was thankful that my hold at the library came in just in the nick of time.  Of course, my hold at the library had been ready for several weeks, but pick ups were delayed by violence and protests at a homeless camp that had been set up on the library lawn…  2021 so far seems to be a continuation of 2020!  But that’s a story I won’t get into here.

The Murderer's Daughters

Lulu and Merry were 9 and 5 years old when they witnessed their father murder their mother in a drunken rage.  The family was fractured and dysfunctional, and shortly afterwards, the girls were sent to live in a group home for girls.  They had weekend visits with their grandmother, who inexplicably couldn’t care for them, even though she managed to live on her own, and visit their father in prison every other weekend.  She and Merry had to take a couple different buses and the Staten Island Ferry to get there, but visited him faithfully, while Lulu refused.  The girls spent years in the orphanage before they were finally fostered by an employee of the home for a short time.

Lulu and Merry each developed different coping methods and strategies and built drastically different lives for themselves.  They remained bonded in their trauma, neither effectively dealing with the pain of what happened.  The novel follows them from the time of the murder in the 1970s until the early 2000s; their careers, their relationships and their family bonds.

Randy Susan Meyers draws on her experience working as a domestic violence advocate to frame the story. It was interesting in many ways, with the characters displaying believable attributes.  The manipulative father who holds no accountability for his actions, the perfect child, and the daughter who rebels against everything…  That said, the characters felt one-dimensional and flat to me; they needed more depth to truly immerse myself in the book.

3 stars.

Book Review: Dark Places

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

I’ve read other books by Gillian Flynn, so when I noticed that this one was available at the library website, I decided to check it out.

Libby is a woman in her early thirties, trying to escape her past.  When she was 7, she was the survivor of the murder of her mother and two sisters; her 15-year-old brother was convicted of the crime.  Libby heard her brother in the house that night, even though he told police he was not at home.

Dark Places

The sympathy money that has kept her going all these years has finally run out, and Libby is forced to accept the fact that she is broke and in need of a job.  She receives an offer to appear at The Kill Club, an unfortunately named convention of sorts, where amateur sleuths convene to swap tips and try to solve their favorite cold case murders.  Libby learns that there is a significant group of followers who believe that her brother is innocent.  But why?

Led along by the small sums of cash offered by the group, she agrees to meet with her brother for the first time in almost 25 years, and begins to harbor a nagging doubt that her brother murdered her family.  What if Libby’s testimony was wrong?  She had to find out the truth…

As is the case with all of Flynn’s books, the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride of ever-changing facts, opinions and realities.  As she weaves in the stories of Libby, her mother and her brother, both then and now, the reader begins to realize that nothing is as it seems.  A well-planned thriller that kept my interest, if not somewhat unbelievable in the end…

3 stars.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I feel like I might be the last woman in the world who hadn’t read this book…  Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L James…  It was available on the library’s website, so what the heck?  People were raving about it; why not see what the hype is all about?

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

Anastasia Steele is a bright, young woman just about to graduate college when she does her roommate a favor and interviews rich, handsome, CEO Christian Grey.  She can’t shake the physical attraction, and neither can he.  However, Mr. Grey, in his late 20s, has acquired a taste for the BDSM lifestyle, and only wants to date Anastasia if she will agree to his kink.  As a 22 year old virgin, this is her first foray into any type of romantic relationship, let alone one with so much risk…  Of course, he is gorgeous, and so sexy, and rich… What will she choose?

The majority of this book is Christian and Anastasia’s two-steps-forward, one-step-back relationship progression, with Anastasia falling hard and getting way, way, too worked up about this jerk of a man…  Love?  I mean, she barely knows the guy.  Yet she agrees to sleep with him on their second date?  And don’t get me started about how a young woman with no sexual experience whatsoever is able to feel mind-numbing pleasure within 5 minutes of her first encounter…  Guys in their 20s just don’t deliver like that…

This novel is really just a vessel to deliver a story of kink and BDSM, wrapped up in a mainstream package with a red bow…  If that interests you, you will like it.  Otherwise, you will probably agree with me, that it’s one to skip…

2 stars.

Book Review: The Flight Attendant

I recently finished The Flight Attendant, by Chris Bohjalian.  It had been awhile since I’ve read one of his books, but I have liked them in the past, so I was game when this one came up as available at the library’s website.  I’m always looking for good audio books!

The Flight Attendant

Imagine being a flight attendant, traveling around the world and spending nights in fabulous cities all around the world.  Like Dubai.  Now imagine you have a bit of a drinking problem, and a bit of a memory problem to go along with it…  Cassandra Bowden’s love for drink, and her love for men lead her to the worst possible scenario.  She wakes up from a drinking binge in a man’s hotel room.  Only he’s dead, soaked in a pool of his own blood, and she can’t remember what happened… 

What would you do if you were alone, in a foreign country, in a dead man’s room?  Cassandra does the only thing she can think of…  She begins to lie. 

This novel leads the reader into a fast paced thriller as Cassandra tries to learn the truth of what happened before the FBI charges her with murder.  Only along the way, she does just about everything a rational person would not do, leaving the reader practically shouting, “you stupid, stupid woman!” 

The twist ending is interesting, although not truly believable, and the novel held my interest until the end.

3 stars. 

Book Review: City of Girls

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Vivian grew up in a rich family in a small town several hours outside of New York City.  She had just been kicked out after her freshman year at Vassar College, basically for not going to class.  Her parents didn’t know what to do with her, so they sent her to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg in New York City.

Peg owns and runs the Lily Playhouse, a run down theatre in a working class neighborhood of Manhattan.  They operate on a shoestring budget, with simple performances for simple working people.

Vivian makes herself useful by designing and sewing costumes for the girls from thrifted clothing, and quickly immerses herself into the party scene of New York City.  She goes down the rabbit hole of booze and men, learning that her desires aren’t those of ‘nice’ girls.  Vivian’s life is set against the backdrop of World War II, with her brother volunteering for service in the Navy.

The book is narrated by 95 year old Vivian, who is looking back and reflecting on her life, filling in the blanks for the daughter of a man who meant the world to Vivian.  She is honest and candid about her non-traditional life, lived in a time when women were expected to conform…

As usual, Gilbert’s character development and fluid descriptions allow the reader to fully immerse into the story, feeling the full sadness, rage, pain and joy of the characters.  It is well worth the read.

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

5 stars.

 

 

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Can you enjoy a book and still find it incredibly flawed?

Kya Clark is a young woman who grows up alone in a swamp on the coast of North Carolina.  Over time in her early childhood, one by one, her mother, four siblings and father all leave until, at the age of 7, she finds herself utterly alone in a cabin without electricity or running water, fending for herself.  The truant officer makes a halfhearted attempt to bring her to school, and a few strangers become friends and teach her what’s necessary to survive in the world.  Against all odds, she finds love, and establishes a successful career as a wildlife/naturalist author.  It’s all romantic, and beautiful, with just enough tragic heartbreak to draw the reader in.

Where the Crawdads Sing

The problem is, none of it could possibly be real.  There’s just too much suspension of disbelief required to truly immerse yourself in the story.  Her mother and older siblings all walked away from their abusive husband/father, and not one of them thought to take the 5 year old with them?  The truant officer and whatever city/county government she worked for, didn’t think it was important enough to find and place a 7 year old living alone in a swamp into foster care?  A 14 year old could learn how to read using complex textbooks and almanacs with only a rudimentary amount of tutoring from another, slightly older, child?

And perhaps the biggest one…  Not one, but two men, from privileged upbringings in town, ignore the peer pressure from their family and friends and fall in love with Kya on her turf, out in the swamp.  Admittedly, she is a side dish for one of them, which is certainly the more believable, but seriously?  Life doesn’t happen that way…  Don’t even get me started on how an unknown in the publishing world happens to miraculously get Kya a multi-book deal that yields enough of an income to sustain her for the remainder of her life.

That said, the author’s descriptions of nature and Kya’s response to her surroundings are superb.  And the story moves quickly through.  In fact, perhaps the plot twist at the end move through a bit too quickly, but I won’t give it away…

3 stars. 

Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

Some of you have probably read Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1818.  If you haven’t, you probably know the story of Victor Frankenstein and the monster he created.  Frankenstein was consumed by grief after his mother’s death of scarlet fever, and he buries himself in his chemistry experiments, eventually finding a way to bring human tissue back to life.  The monster Frankenstein is born.

Frankenstein is considered the first science fiction story, but what if it wasn’t a story?  What if Frankenstein’s monster was real?

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1)

This novel by Theodora Goss, explores a world in which not only the monster was real, but there were other monsters created through alchemy.  After the death of her mother, Mary Jekyll begins to search into her father’s past, on the trail of a frittered-away fortune.  She discovers that her father was keeping some deep, dark secrets, and not just about the money.  She enlists the help of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and gets caught up in an adventure that was nothing she bargained for…

Sci-fi isn’t my typical genre, but this novel held my interest from start to finish.  Her writing style is unique, told from the perspective of many characters, but it works well.  I love how she blended three amazing stories (Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Sherlock Holmes novels) , and incorporated them into her own.

I listened to the audio book, which was read using a cast of characters with different voices to help the reader keep track of the switching perspective.  It wasn’t until I was writing this review that I discovered that the book is the first in a series of three.  I might have to check out the others!

4 stars.

 

 

Book Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects was a novel that I chose from the library’s website, simply based on the author.  You have probably heard of Gillian Flynn; she wrote Gone Girl, which became an international bestseller and was turned into a movie.  I read Gone Girl a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty interesting, so I decided to check this one out!

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects is the story of Camille, a young woman who grew up in small town Missouri and moved to Chicago the first chance she had to escape a dysfunctional family.  She was one of the lucky ones it seems.  Camille is sent home by her newspaper editor to cover an unsolved serial murder with very few leads.  In order to dig up information for her story, she has to interact with the family and friends she has left behind, who have never really changed.

Camille stays with her mother and stepfather, and is subjected to the strange way her mother has of attempting to control her, even though she is now 30.  And she gets to know her strange, self-absorbed 13 year old stepsister, who was a toddler when Camille was last living at home.  Let’s just say there’s a lot of creepy in that family…

There are a series of twists and turns as Camille befriends the FBI agent on the case, and confronts her alcoholism and mental illness along the way.  You might think you know how the book will turn out, but don’t be so sure…

4 stars. 

Book Review: The Winemaker’s Wife

The Winemaker’s Wife, by Kristen Harmel

In this historical novel, Inès and Michel are a young newlywed couple in the Champagne region of France at the beginning of World War II. Michel’s family business, the champagne house of Maison Chauveau and its elaborate wine cellars are the perfect location to hide guns for the French Resistance. Inès and Céline, the wife of Maison Chauveau’s winemaker, have a strained relationship and do not see eye to eye.

Liv is the American granddaughter of a French woman who whisks her off to France after Liv’s marriage falls apart and she finds herself starting over. She soon learns that her grandmother has secrets; the frail, elderly woman is taking her on a wild goose chase to uncover her long-buried family history, a history she tried to leave behind at the end of the war.

Harmel takes the reader on a series of twists and turns; each character is not who they initially seem to be. They are complex and multi-dimensional, making it impossible to either love or hate any of them. Each one has their good and bad qualities, much like we all do in real life, which are exacerbated by the stress and privation of war.

I don’t want to give much away, because each twist in this winding road is worth discovering for yourself. Just know, it is well worth the read.

4 stars.