9.30.2014

TOP TEN TUESDAY | BOOKS THAT WERE HARD FOR ME TO READ


This week's Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish is: Top Ten Books That Were Hard for Me to Read.  This can be because they were complex, long, on a difficult topic, not my cup of tea or just books I felt like I had to read and that made me resist. Whatever the reason, I struggled with these ones:


The Edible Woman - Margaret Atwood
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold 


Prozac Nation - Elizabeth Wurtzel
The Vacationers - Emma Straub


These Broken Stars - Aimee Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Beautiful Creatures - Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl


Going Bovine - Libba Bray
Shatter Me - Tahereh Mafi
Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins

These are just the ones I thought of first or that are near the top of my "read" list. There have been countless others over the years that I struggled with - and that's without even considering all the ones I didn't finish! This is a list that could very easily get out of hand, so I'm going to strictly adhere to the ten.

What about you guys? Did you struggle to finish any of these? Which books gave you a rough time? Share in the comments!

9.28.2014

THE SUNDAY REVIEW | THE VACATIONERS - EMMA STRAUB


An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.
- Goodreads


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I picked this book to read on my way to San Francisco. I figured it's about vacation, right? So what could be more appropriate? I dove right in (yes, that's a pointed reference to the cover) and happily began slopping around in the shallow end. And mostly stayed there.

At first I had a lot of hope for this book. The characters were set up to be complex and rewarding to get to know, and the plot held the potential for exactly the type of book I love - character-driven that takes place in a vividly-drawn, foreign setting, balancing emotional depth with an exotic locale.

The setting delivered. I've never been to Mallorca, but I could see it taking shape in my imagination as I read, feel the sun kissing my skin and taste the fresh bite of garden-picked herbs. I'd never really read or heard much about Mallorca before, but after reading this I definitely want to experience it at some point.

Unfortunately the characters didn't quite come to life in the same way and the plot failed to provide me with enough originality to satisfy. I've been tossing this book around in my mind for nearly three weeks now trying to put into words exactly what left me feeling disappointed, and I'm not entirely sure I can adequately communicate it.

The characters had a lot to offer at the beginning, but I found that I kept waiting for more. I wanted to really get into their heads, to see the emotions behind their actions and to understand what led them to their next decision. I wanted them to step out of obvious reactions to their circumstances and surprise me - and themselves. But none of them managed to do so - at least not in a good way.

Most of the characters fit disappointingly into stereotypes and developed worse and worse decision-making skills and personality traits. By the end I really didn't care what happened to anyone in the family - which is just as well, since the story pretty much unfolded exactly as I thought it would.

In addition to that, the character descriptions were sometimes inconsistent and a bit confusing. My biggest problem was Carmen. She was the older girlfriend of Bobby, and a fitness trainer. But every time she stepped onto the page her description seemed to clash with whatever had previously been written. She starts off sounding like a ditzy Miami girl, then becomes a savvy and ambitious professional, then a controlling and slightly whiny girlfriend. And throughout she has these odd moments where she has unbelievable insight into exactly what one of the other characters needs to hear, which is completely at odds with how I'd been led to imagine her to that point. The muddled characterization left me feeling like my brain had multiple personality disorder.

You (hopefully) know how much I hate tearing down books. I think that's part of why I've spent so long thinking before writing this review, hoping the story would settle in my mind and stick with me in some way. Unfortunately, the longer I sit with it, the less positive I feel about it. At the end of the day, it just wasn't the book for me. It wasn't totally terrible, but it didn't manage to impress me. I also think that part of the problem was that I had insanely high expectations for it, having seen review after review pointing to it as the book of the summer.

That said, I think this is a book that will probably be loved by anyone who really sees a common ground with one of the characters. Though they're not particularly well-developed, they're representations of certain phases in both life and relationships, and as such can provide a reflection and vessel upon which the right reader could project their own experiences. Likewise those who are just looking for a beautifully set story and are okay with a relatively shallow storyline will probably be entertained by this book. And, of course, that cover!

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Book Title: The Vacationers
Author: Emma Straub
Series: No
Edition: Hardback
Published By: Riverhead
Released: May 29, 2014
Genre: Fiction, Drama, Family, Contemporary
Pages: 292
Date Read: August 14-20, 2014
Rating: 4/10

9.27.2014

STACKING THE SHELVES | #40


Time to look at the books I added to my shelves this week with Stacking the Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews! Not necessarily books I bought - also includes books I borrowed, was given or otherwise ended up with. Weeks where I don't buy books I'll scramble around my shelves and find some books I haven't shared in a StS post yet! 


 
Anatomy of a Misfit - Andrea Portes
I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson

I had pre-ordered both of these, and I've since read mixed reviews of Anatomy of a Misfit. I'm still going to give it a try, but I'll Give You the Sun is the one I'm more excited about! What did you guys add or pull out from your shelves this week?

9.24.2014

WWW Wednesday | #34


It's time for this week's WWW Wednesdays, hosted by Should Be Reading blog (head over and check them out!).

This link up asks three questions
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What do you think you'll be reading next? 
Here are my WWW answers!

What did I recently finish reading?


I finished this one over the weekend, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. The memoir of a young writer as remembered across the chasm of many intervening years, the voice lends itself sometimes to a fond recollection of her younger self, and at other times a to a somewhat bemused, nearly parental chastisement of the choices she made. While I found her circumstances interesting (working for "Jerry" Salinger's agency in the 1990s) I found the main character frustrating, and her willingness to put up with boyfriend Don's lack of respect infuriating. The parts relating to her job and her reading life, I loved, the portions relating to her train wreck of a personal life I skimmed. Which isn't meant to judge her for youthful inexperience - we've all been there - it's just that while I lived it I had no choice but be immersed by it. Now, in a book I'm reading, I do have a choice, and it'll take a lot to make me really enjoy spending time in the awkward stage of life. Even though in reality it is often the most important phase - the one that teaches us to stick up for ourselves and make better decisions in the future. 

What am I currently reading? 



I started The Paying Guests, but it didn't really suck me in. So instead, I'm reading The Woman Who Went to Bed for A Year, which seemed appropriate given that a) I haven't been feeling that great lately and b) the weather has begun to turn - both leaving me wishing I could do the same. It's by Sue Townsend, author of the infamous Adrian Mole diaries, and thus promises to be as insightful as it is hilarious.

I also rekindled interest in Let the Great World Spin after coming across it on vacation, so the other day I picked it up and started reading. I'm 23 pages in and so far we've had in intro featuring an urban high-wire act in New York, been introduced to the main character's family in Dublin, seen he and his brother from childhood through the death of their mother, the return and subsequent re-departure of their father, the slow descent of the younger brother into a (frequently) drunk homeless man/wandering philospher who departs Dublin for New York by way of Brussels and the main character moving out of his childhood home and getting blown up.

Before you start screeching about spoilers, let me remind you that none of this can really count as a spoiler BECAUSE IT ALL HAPPENS IN THE FIRST 23 PAGES OF THE BOOK. Phew. Despite the whirlwind plot progression, the writing is stunningly beautiful and can support such vast amounts of action in such a meager number of pages. The only challenge will be keeping up - both emotionally and in terms of plot.

What do I think I'll be reading next?


Hmm. I'm not really sure, so I'll stick with my answer from last week - I'm still waiting to get my hands on The Maze Runner books, and I suspect I'll need something a bit easier after my current reads. So hopefully I'll dive into this series next! 

Alright, your turn - what books have you just finished? Raves? Pans? Share in the comments!

9.22.2014

TOP TEN TUESDAY | BOOKS ON MY FALL TBR LIST


This week's Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish is: Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List.  I assume this means NEW books coming out in fall, so I'll stick to those but include a few that just came out!


The Children Act - Ian McEwan
The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters


How To Build A Girl - Caitlin Moran - September 23
The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simsion - September 24
Us - David Nicholls - September 30


Belzhar - Meg Wollitzer - September 30
Not My Father's Son - Alan Cumming - October 7


Glory O'Brien's History of the Future - A.S. King - October 14
Killer Instinct (The Naturals #2) - Jennifer Lynn Barnes - November 4


I'm sure there are more I'm not thinking of, so share in the comments - which Fall reads are topping your TBR list?

9.21.2014

THE SUNDAY (BOOK & MOVIE) REVIEW | THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU - JONATHAN TROPPER


Let's start with the exciting part. Thanks to Karen over at One More Page who frantically tweeted me last weekend telling me to wake up and get my act in gear, I was able (just barely) to enter Indigo Events' contest for tickets to an advance screening of This Is Where I Leave You. Which was perfect, since I was about 20 pages away from finishing the book in anticipation of the film hitting screens!

So, on Wednesday night, I headed to the theatre and settled in to watch the much-anticipated tragicomedy based on Jonathan Tropper's novel. For those of you who haven't read the book or seen the trailers, this is the story of a family of grown up kids who are sitting shiva for their father. The film stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Dax Shepard and Jane Fonda - all of whom know how to deliver a witty line with perfect timing and create great on-screen chemistry.

In contrast to the book, it is this chemistry and humour that stands out in the film, despite the sad situational elements. Bateman's character is one of the less charismatic, but more believable characters. All the other characters orbit him, and they each bring a distinct flavour of wit that creates a rich set of relationships. Relationships that are complex, full of history and depth that allows them to layer on top of one another creating a satisfying portrait of an estranged family in mourning.

I loved this film, and though there were a few teary moments, there were many more that made me laugh out loud (along with the rest of the theatre). I don't think it's necessary to read the book before seeing the film, but if you have read it, the film won't disappoint. It took the best and most entertaining parts of the book and added a few new quirks and wrinkles that made it even more compelling. Likewise if you found the book a bit too heavy, you'll like the film's comedic focus.

If you're a fan of Judd Apatow's films (Bridesmaids, Superbad, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) or just looking for some laughs as the summer wanes, this will fit the bill. Apatow has developed a reputation for films that are darkly humorous with quirky characters and realistic conflicts. This film will not disappoint fans of Apatow, the main actors or the book.

Check out the trailer:


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Now that I've reviewed the film, it's time to share my thoughts on the book. That's right, this is a two-for-one edition of The Sunday Review!
 

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister—have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.

As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it’s a week-long attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant.
This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper's most accomplished work to date, a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind—whether we like it or not. - Goodreads


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As mentioned above, I finished this book a week ago, just in time to head to the theatre. In fact, the whole reason I chose to pick up this book right now was because I wanted to read the book before watching it come to life on-screen - and after watching the trailer, I had high hopes for this one. This wasn't, however, the first time I'd heard of it. I originally picked it up after seeing Red reading it in an episode of Orange Is the New Black (which, btw, is chock full of literary references and a great place to find your next read!).

The book starts with Judd's wife cheating on him, progresses to his pathetic life post-break-up (living in a sad, rundown basement suite with sagging furniture and a clear earshot of his upstairs neighbours' bathroom activity) and then moves along to his father's tragic death. And it doesn't really improve much from there, as Judd and his siblings are forced to spend a week trapped in their childhood home, reliving agonizing, awkward and better-left-forgotten moments of their childhood as they sit Shiva for their father.

We soon learn all about Judd's family and the personal drama each is facing: his mother, who has dealt with his father's illness by "enhancing" her breasts and investing in a skimpy wardrobe; his older brother Paul who runs the family business and is married to Judd's ex-girlfriend who can't seem to get pregnant; Judd's sister Wendy, her workaholic husband Larry and their three children who seem to exist in barely controlled chaos and mutual antipathy towards one another; and finally, Phillip, the baby of the family who has a history of pretty much every bad decision you can imagine and arrives with much older girlfriend in tow.

There's a lot of friction, a lot of stored-up resentment and way too many people to fit under one roof. The story progresses by simultaneously telling the story of the week of imposed familial intimacy and weaving in tangential memories that provide back-story on the complicated relationships that make up this family.

I won't give away any of the plot twists, but I will say that if the summary of the story thus far seems complicated to you, your head will spin by the end of the book. I enjoyed the writing style, and found the characters compelling and entertaining. It did drag a bit in places - mostly because the situations that drive the plot are generally on the dark side - but overall there were enough humorous moments that I didn't feel bogged down.

Comparison:

While I enjoyed both the book and film, I will say that if you're in impatient reader or if you have trouble sticking with plots that aren't full of sunshine and happiness, you might find the book challenging. That said, you'll probably love the movie, which consolidates the lighter moments and multiplies them, along with some really great character acting.

Overall, though I hate to say it, I think I did enjoy the film more because of the added details and focus on the funny side that made it easier to become immersed in. It's likely to become one I re-watch when I'm feeling blue while indulging in some ice cream.        

Book Title: This Is Where I Leave You
Author: Jonathan Tropper
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Plume
Released: July 6, 2010
Genre: Fiction, Family Drama, Humour
Pages: 339
Date Read: September 2-15, 2014
Rating: 7.5/10

STACKING THE SHELVES | #39


Time to look at the books I added to my shelves this week with Stacking the Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews! Not necessarily books I bought - also includes books I borrowed, was given or otherwise ended up with. Weeks where I don't buy books I'll scramble around my shelves and find some books I haven't shared in a StS post yet! 




A Private Place - Amanda Craig
A Vicious Circle - Amanda Craig



Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
100 Sideways Miles - Andrew Smith
Nothing Holds Back the Night - Dephine De Vigan


Legends - Robert Littell
Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann 
How to Speak Brit - Christopher J. Moore

Added a few interesting books this week. I really enjoyed Amanda Craig's book Hearts and Minds, so I ordered her other books. Turns out at least one of them is a tangential story about one of the peripheral characters in Hearts and Minds, which is interesting. Station Eleven and 100 Sideways Miles I've been hearing about everywhere over the last few weeks, and were both pre-orders. I expect both to be good but decidedly odd (even creepy in the case of Station Eleven!). Nothing Holds Back the Night is one I came across by chance and it sounds intriguing, if a bit dark. It's a speculative memoir in which Delphine explores her mother's glamorous but disturbed life.

We started watching Legends, and it didn't take long for me to decide I wanted to try out the book upon which it was based. Let the Great World Spin is one I've had kicking around for a while, but I came across it in a bookstore in San Francisco, which reminded me that I've been meaning to read it! How to Speak Brit was a late, surprise birthday present (the best kind!) from my husband. As the child of two Brits, most of the words and phrases it includes are both familiar and nostalgic, some made me laugh out loud.

So that's it for my week in books - what about you guys? Share in the comments!

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