Category Archives: Books

Two Sentence Book Club

5088254388_3a32e61ab8_bLooking at past posts, I realized that the last book review I did was Beautiful Ruins and the last book I mentioned was Wuthering Heights. Well, folks, I’ve done a LOT of reading since then. And while I’m not as prolific as my friend Alison, I feel like I can hold my own when it comes to literary talk. So, as the weather gets colder and you’re more prone to curl up on the couch with a book, I figured everyone could beef up their reading list with these quick two sentence reviews.

Must reads:

Stay away:

I could go on but figured this would get you started. I’m currently reading “Bringing Up Bébé” by Pamela Druckerman, a book on French parenting seen through the eyes of an American in Paris. It’s fascinating, considering my background, but definitely not a good fit for everyone.

What have you been reading lately? Any thoughts on the books I posted above? Disagreements? What should be on my book list?

Image: az by d-221 books

Advertisements
Tagged , ,

What Adam’s Reading: “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter

11447921Well, January has come and gone – I blinked and it was over, which means everyone should be wrapped up with “Beautiful Ruins,” our first book club read of the year! In typical book club fashion, I pulled a couple of discussion questions below in the hopes to guide our conversations throughout the comments. I also wanted to give a typical “That Guy” review, similar to what you’ll find here. So, skip down to whichever section interests you most and check back tomorrow for the announcement of our pick for February!

///

When choosing this book with my friend Alison, we were looking for an undeniable hit from 2012 that we hadn’t tackled yet. Appearing in most “Best of 2012” lists, the decision seemed easy.

Side note: My first choice would have been “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel but that’s a sequel so I’ll have to read the two installments in my spare time. 

What intrigued me about the plot was the fact that it spanned over multiple decades, usually ensuring depth of character and story, and claimed to be a great example of how chance encounters and impromptu relationships can influence individuals’ lives. The latter, I would agree with; the former, I would not.

Critics were right when referencing the scope of the book, but what they failed to elaborate on is that there are basically three instances when the protagonists interact with each other: late 1960s, on the set of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, early 1970s, and today. You’re filled in on the holes of their respective histories throughout the novel but very rarely is there dialogue between the main characters beyond their first encounter, making their relationships come off as superficial.

That’s why I fully agree in regards to the fact that this novel can be looked to as a literary interpretation of the “It’s a Small World” phenomenon: the moment when you have lost friends and acquaintances reappear in your life. It’s perfectly accurate to think that paths would cross at some point, but it’s somewhat presumptuous and cheesy to give them intense feelings for each other that would never be there in real life.

I don’t mean to make this book sound horrible, but in my mind it was just mediocre, especially going into it with such high expectations. I will say that the ending wraps the whole story up with a nice bright bow on top, leaving no doubt as to what happens to the heroes later on in life. Sometimes, it’s nice to not have cliffhangers.

Summary:

  • Grade: C. Really just an average story.
  • What’s it about: You meet five characters off the coast of Italy who are involved in the Elizabeth Taylor scandal on the set of Cleopatra. Fifty years later, they reunite, a whole life of memories and regrets between them.
  • Who should read this book: Someone who is interested in knowing what the hype is all about.
  • When should you read it: When you want a quick read that isn’t airport-quick.
  • Where to find it: Amazon.com for $18, still only available in hardback.

///

This section is for all of you who read the book and want to talk about it. WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS! I found these questions more thought-provoking than others since they provided a new perspective. Feel free to answer the same ones or pick another from this list.

One of Jess Walter’s concerns in Beautiful Ruins is how real life intersects and influences art. Talk about the numerous ways that idea plays out in the novel.

This was something I didn’t notice until it was pointed out but when you think about it, every character was an artist, whether they be an actor, a author, a musician, a painter etc. Throughout the book, they’re constantly creating something and the output is reflective of their personal experiences:

  • Dee, as an actress, pulls emotions from the disappointment she feels at the turn her life took.
  • Alvis, the author, is writing about a moment he lived through during the war.
  • Shane, the screenplay writer, is using material (Donner!) from when he was a kid.
  • Michael Deane, the author, publishes a book outlining how to succeed in Hollywood, the same way he did.
  • Lydia, the actress/playwright, literally uses her and Pat’s lives as material.

The only person who this doesn’t apply to is Pasquale and when you dwell on it, it might be to emphasize his more earthly personality and real-life aspirations: have a family and settle down versus becoming rich and famous.

Of the seven main characters, which is your favorite? Least favorite (don’t all say Michael Deane)?

What I liked about this question is that Michael Deane was probably my favorite character. He’s the practical one, the smart one who is able to follow his instincts and be right. He learns from his failures and builds on his successes, taking one challenge at a time. I feel that most everyone in the book could have learned a thing or two from Deane and not been living with regrets. Dee Moray, Pasquale, Pat, Lydia – I’m looking at you!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Adam’s Reading: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

9780743273565_custom-s6-c10Everyone’s heard of “The Great Gatsby” but it’s most likely credited to a required reading list from high school. Growing up in France, my list included the likes of Emile Zola, Moliere and Jules Verne, which is why I’ve wanted to explore more classic American literature as I got older.

Side note: I thought taking an American literature class in college would fix that but unfortunately, the only full-length novel that we read was “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain – an important book but one that I had already read on my own. #collegefail

One of my favorite things when picking up these time-honored works is learning why they became classics in the first place. “Catcher in the Rye,” which I read last year, was considered scandalous when it first came out and one of the first coming-of-age stories of its time. “The Great Gatsby”‘s acclaim stems from Fitzgerald’s success at encapsulating the feel and mentality of the Roaring Twenties.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, it’s basically an exposé of Jay Gatsby as experienced by his neighbor Nick Carraway. Much like Nick, your first impression of Gatsby is a charismatic, wealthy young man who revels in partying and being around people. Quickly though, through Gatsby’s obsession with an old flame, the married Daisy Buchanan, you slowly realize that under the shiny exterior is a very troubled individual.

I think what struck me the most is that Gatsby slowly comes off as strange and even a little crazy. After a while, he is so delusional in the assessment of his feelings and his situation in life, that all the lies he told to rise up in society slowly came crashing down, resulting in his demise.

As you’re reading, you also get the feeling that everything about Gatsby is off. You get small glimpses of what he does for a living but even its reveal isn’t quite enough since you never fully understand who his partner, Meyer Wolfsheim, truly is.

Overall, each character, except for Nick, appear as shallow, fake and insincere. This could be a painting of the state of society during the 1920s, or a testament to the true person that Nick was – a simple midwesterner trying to make it in the fast-paced, ruthless environment of New York City.

Summary:

  • Grade: A
  • What’s it about: Jay Gatsby: the partier, the lover, the gang member (at least that’s my theory).
  • Who should read this book: Anyone who finds value in being familiar with the classics.
  • When should they read it: The book is short, which means it’s a very easy way to add a cultural notch on your belt. I also recommend reading it before May 10, 2013, as that’s when the much anticipated adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan will be released.
  • Where can you find it: Amazon.com for $9, or any regular used bookstore. You might even try raiding your parents’ bookshelves.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on Gatsby? I feel as though this is a book that we could discuss at length.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Adam’s Reading: “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides

51GPiDFcQCLWhen I sat down to write this review, I stared at the screen for a good five minutes, unable to find the words to describe this book or my feelings on it. The reason for that, I think, is because it’s a novel that requires you to sit back and reflect and, I admit, I haven’t had enough time to do that. One of the reasons for this is that I immediately dove into our January Book of the Month and didn’t really sort out my impressions of Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell.

“The Marriage Plot” is almost exactly what you think it will be and so completely not. Before reading it, I knew that it would involve a love triangle of sorts but I was unprepared for the depth of character and complexity of emotions that each of our protagonists display. Their relationships with each other come across very primal and toxic at the same time, as each person acts on impulse, emphasizing the insecurities they feverishly try to hide. In a sense, this book could almost be described as a coming of age story since, by the end, they’re completely different people than when they started. They manage to embrace themselves and flourish into who they were always meant to be.

I feel like I could go on and on about this book, discussing the interesting setting that is the 1980s, the influence our parents have on us and the misunderstanding of mental illness but instead, I’m going to keep it short and urge you to read one of the smartest books I’ve encountered in a while. You won’t regret traveling the world with Mitchell, learning of your inner strength with Madeleine and crying at the unravelling of the genius that is Leonard.

Summary:

  • Grade: Must-read – I really am giving you no choice.
  • What’s it about: The complex relationships of three characters who, over the course of nine months, graduate from Brown, travel the world, fall in love and go completely insane in their own unique ways.
  • Who should read this book: Readers who enjoy complex, layered stories – this is not necessarily a quick read but you will know these characters through and through by the time you’re done.
  • When should they read it: If you’re looking for a serious novel, written by a serious writer – this guy won a Pulitzer Prize!
  • Where can you find it: Amazon.com for $11 – it came out in paperback recently.

PS: If you’re looking for a much more comprehensive review of “The Marriage Plot,” check out what my friend Alison had to say. She’s much more eloquent than me and hits the essence of the book right on the head.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

2013 Book Club

Screen shot 2013-01-04 at 10.56.01 AMIt’s no secret on this blog that I love to read. I don’t always do a good job of reporting back on what I’m reading but I do try to always have my nose in a book – except in September when fall TV starts and I need to vet all the new shows … Anyways, my friend Alison keeps me accountable as she reads even more than me! In the past, we tried to decide on a book of the month, which you might remember from here, but that quickly fell to the wayside when our busy lives caught up to us. We want to change that and what better time to do it than with the new year? So, without further ado, I invite you to join us on our 2013 Book Club journey! Feel free to pick and choose which ones you want to join in on, or even read all of them, but hopefully this will help us read more in 2013 than we did in 2012.

The best part about this book club is that we want to span multiple genres and types of books, which is why we’ve decided on a theme for each month. Some are contextual, like a love story in February for Valentine’s day, while others are making sure that we’re reading the classics as much as the contemporary works. This is the list that we came up with:

  • January: Best of 2012, because there were so many good books this past year and we’re just chomping at the bit for reasons to read them
  • February: A love story
  • March: Non-fiction
  • April: Classic – no reason to not brush up on your literary must-reads
  • May: Summer, to get everyone pumped for the warm weather
  • June: Essays. This was one of those different genres that we felt like we should include
  • July: History, to get us in the mood for the Fourth of July
  • August: Education, because even though we’re not going back to school, we like to pretend like we are
  • September: Sports – football season! M-I-Z!
  • October: Thriller – boo!
  • November: Our favorite books, since we’re thankful for friendship
  • December: The holidays! Because of Kwanza, Hanukkah and Christmas – duh

These are obviously not set in stone but give us a good guide as to what to expect for the coming 12 months. What do you think? Is there a genre that we missed? Any books that you recommend?

11447921As for our January BOTM (pronounced “bottom”), we decided to go with “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. It made three of the most popular “Best Books of 2012” lists and seemed like the perfect note to start the year on. Spanning two continents and fifty years, this novel mixes the glitz of Hollywood with the rustic charm of Coastal Italy to create a novel that is hailed by NPR’s Fresh Air program as a “literary miracle.” Does that not get you excited or what?

Check back at the end of the month to read our thoughts, share your own impressions and get the DL on our pick for February. Happy reading!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Adam’s Reading: “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling

200px-The_Casual_VacancyJ.K. Rowling. At this point, everyone knows her name, which is why I’m not even going to dive into her previous work or accolades since it would just be reiterating facts that you’re already familiar with. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when she released her first novel since the Harry Potter series back in September, it became an immediate global best-seller. Being a fan myself, I was very excited to sink my teeth into it and shape my own impressions of her as an adult author and not a creator of children’s books.

As I mentioned, this is JKR’s first foray into being an adult writer and in that perspective, it feels like she’s trying to distance herself from her previous work as much as possible. The first indication of this is the scope of this story. It’s so small compared to Harry Potter not just in its setting but in its depth. It’s true that small town politics can be intriguing and even scandalous but her ability to paint colorful characters doesn’t prevent the plot from falling flat. The second clue that she’s trying to assert herself as an adult is the prevalence of sex, drugs and alcohol. Gone are the squeaky clean kids who were the paragon of moral excellence and courage. Instead, you find the protagonists dealing with some real-life issues of self-image, harsh parenting and unforgiving environments. In a way, you get the impression that she’s trying to keep her imagination in check and stick to more contemporary challenges.

Narrative aside, one of my biggest criticisms of the book is the lack of a chart outlining the various characters. She throws so many at you at the very beginning of the book that it would have been nice to have something to refer to for at least the first 100 pages. It got to the point where I was scribbling names down on my boarding pass at the airport while waiting to board my flight home to Kansas City for the holidays. Sure, it made me look hardcore but at the end of that day, that work should have been done for me. Luckily for you, the Internet is a beautiful place and you can check back here (in case you’re worried, the list doesn’t reveal any spoilers) for a brief list of characters that might be throwing you for a loop.

Overall, I’m glad I read “The Casual Vacancy” and I will most likely read everything that JKR puts out in the future. However, you can’t help but wonder if this book would have been as successful without her name attached to it and my gut instinct is telling me “no.”

Summary:

  • Grade: B-
  • What’s it about: A member of the Pagford city council dies suddenly, opening his seat to whomever wants to rise to the challenge. As the election unfolds, you discover more and more about the candidates, their families, their secrets and the relationships that tie them all together.
  • Who should read this book: Anyone who’s read Harry Potter and anyone who hasn’t and wants to become familiar with J.K. Rowling’s style. There’s no arguing that she can be very engaging.
  • When should you read it: Someone looking for a casual read but not wanting to compromise on the quality of the writing.
  • Where can you find it: Amazon.com for $16. Still only available in hardback.

Has anyone else read it? What were your impressions? Am I being too harsh?

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

What Adam’s Reading: “Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me” by Miscellaneous

lies-that-chelsea-handler-told-meFolks, it’s been a while since I’ve done a book review but I have several excuses for my behavior. The first is that I took a break from blogging. It was taking such a toll on my personal and professional life that I just had to rest and refocus (a.k.a. I got super lazy). The second reason is that I hadn’t picked up a book in a while. I think I got a little burnt out after reading eight books in August and then fall television started, which means I had to dedicate time to keeping up with all my favorite shows. I promise to be better about not only reading but also reporting my findings and feelings here. If you’re interested about any other books I’ve read or are looking for additions to your reading list, be sure to check out this tab.

My expectations for this book were very different from the previous Chelsea Handler books that I’d read. The most obvious reason is that she didn’t write it. Sure, it’s interspersed with her thoughts on the authors and their versions of whatever prank she submitted them to but overall, 98 percent of the book is written by her close friends and family. Some contributors include her brothers and sisters (she has five total), her stylist and a lot of the writers from her show, most of which you’ll recognize from the round tables at “Chelsea Lately.”

While reading, I had two big takeaways. The first is that Chelsea Handler is someone that likes to laugh. This might seem like a stupid assumption since she’s a standup comedian and is known for her quick wit and dry humor but she takes it to a whole new level outside of work. Each chapter is packed full of pranks that she plays on those around her from sending emails from their computers announcing pregnancies, deadly diseases or family secrets to full blown, six month long charades she carries on with her staff. Of course, there are consequences to be had but everyone usually comes out unscathed and a little more skeptical of anything Chelsea says. At the end of the day, it’s understood that even though she’s laughing at you, she likes you.

The second trait that you learn about Chelsea is that she is an extremely generous, caring person. This might be strange since I just spent a paragraph describing her antics but half of the book is set in tropical locations where she flies her entire staff and family for vacations and birthdays on her own dime. Yes, you will most likely be made fun of in the process but she wants to keep those she loves close.

So, the grade I would give this book? An A. That might come as a surprise since it’s not a great novel by any means but I read it in three days and was entertained for all 250 pages. To the contributors, well done for being able to write in compelling and humorous ways and to Chelsea, congrats on constantly keeping your friends and staff on their toes. It takes quite the imagination to dream up enough pranks and jokes to fill up four books to date. I have a feeling she still has more up her sleeve.

Summary:

  • Grade: A
  • What’s it about: Chelsea Handler’s pranks and jokes on her friends, staff and family. Let’s just say that all of these people need a hard skin and high alcohol tolerance to hang with this woman.
  • Who should read this book: Fans of Chelsea Handler will appreciate the different perspective that this book provides compared to her previous works. For those of you who don’t know the comedienne, I suggest starting with her first books and working your way up to this one.
  • When should you read it: This is the perfect “I just want something light and quick” book. It’s most likely best suited for airports and long commutes.
  • Where can you find it: Amazon.com for $10

Any other Chelsea Handler fans out there? What were your thoughts on this book or her previous ones?

Tagged , , , , , ,

What Adam’s Reading: “Room” by Emma Donoghue

room-by-emma-donoghueAs I mentioned it here, my friends and I decided to make “Room” our February book of the month. Although I finished it several weeks ago, I’m just now getting around to writing about it because it’s taken me a while to wrap my head around what I thought of it.

For those of you that don’t know the premise, “Room” follows the story of a mother and her son who, very simply, live in a room. As you flip through pages, you quickly realize that the mom was kidnapped when she was very young and forced into doing the bidding of her captor, hence the birth of their son. Heavy material I know, but the catch is that the whole story is told from the perspective of the five-year-old boy, who knows nothing of the outside world and would be very content should he have to live in “Room” forever.

It’s an interesting approach since the book delves into what it’s like for someone to discover the world, one tree, pancake and sucker at a time. If you consider that your whole universe centered around a 10×11 foot space with no windows and only a TV for entertainment, you soon understand that it’s no wonder this boy is overwhelmed. Heck, I get overwhelmed at the office sometimes with the sheer volume of work that I have to do. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have every single one of your senses flooded with new smells, sounds and sights.

My biggest concern with this book is that the five-year-old’s perspective can get pretty old, pretty fast. Once you get over the fact that he names all of the furniture, you realize that his obvious lack of vocabulary keeps a lot of details and layers of the story in the dark. I understand what Donoghue wanted to achieve, but I can’t help but feel that this particular work lacks complexity. Then again, maybe that’s the point? Maybe it shows that although this boy is trapped in a horrible, life-altering situation, for him it’s normal, simple and what he’s learned to accept.

I gave this book a B for how easy it is to read and the originality of the story. But I can’t give it anything more because of the simplicity, lack of character development and overall writing style. Now, I realize that all of the books I’ve read so far this year are wavering in the slightly-above-average realm, but stick with me. There are bound to be some As out there. In fact, the book I’m reading now is headed that way so there is hope!

Summary:
  • Grade: B
  • What it’s about: A little boy and his mother who were forced to live in a room for five years before escaping and rediscovering the world.
  • Who should read this book: If you have a pulse on the literary world, you should read it just because it’s made the rounds of all the “best of” lists. If you don’t, you should read it because it gives you some perspective and a greater appreciation for the hardships that some individuals have to go through.
  • When you should read it: This is definitely heavy materials, so you should plan accordingly.
  • Where to find it:Amazon.com for $10.
Have you read “Room”? What did you think of the five-year-old narrative?

PS: Check out the other books I’ve read here. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration for your own reading list.

PPS: This post took FOREVER to write because I ended up getting distracted by Pinterest. Be on the look out for a post about my impressions of the social networking site sometime in the near future. 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

What Adam’s Reading: “Something Borrowed” by Emily Giffin

Well, I expected to have a different post up before I blogged about another book I read but clearly, I was sucked into this one in the “I just need a quick, entertaining read” kind of way.

I’m not even going to provide a full synopsis of this book because there’s not really much to talk about. The narrative follows a woman who’s her best friend’s maid of honor in her upcoming nuptials. Instead of throwing herself into the hectic responsibilities of helping plan a wedding, she sleeps with the groom and spends the next 250 pages beating herself up over it. Of course, everything works out for the best and she comes out on top. The end.

So yes, it’s your typical chick flick and I hate to say it, but Emily Giffin just isn’t as good as a writer as Lauren Weisberger. This is my round-about way of telling you to read “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Everyone Worth Knowing” before picking up one of Giffin’s pastel covered books.

I did want to point out one passage though:

“About two weeks [after moving to New York with no job], a man waltzed into the Monkey Bar, ordered a whiskey sour and began to chat Darcy up. By the time he finished his drink, he had promised her a job at one of Manhattan’s top PR firms. He told her to come in for an interview, but that he would (wink, wink) make sure that she got the job. Darcy took his business card, had me revise her resume, went in for the interview, and got an offer on the spot. Her starting salary was seventy thousand dollars. Plus an expense account.”

Clearly Giffin has no idea what she’s talking about. I speak from experience when I say that that would NEVER happen, but that’s another post for another time.

Summary:

  • Grade: B- (the entertaining factor bumps it up from a C+)
  • What it’s about: An insecure Manhattan lawyer who sleeps with her best friend’s fiance and has to deal with the consequences … or not.
  • Who should read this book: Those that like the classic chick-flick genre.
  • When you should read it: At a time when you need a light read, preferably on a plane. Yeah, this is more of an airport book.
  • Where to find it: Amazon.com for $9.

So how about you? Do you like chick-flick books? What ones have you read recently?

PS: Check out some of my other book reviews here

PPS: My good friends, Alison and Laura, and I are starting a book club. See what Alison had to say about it here. Also, our February book is “Room,” so get your hands on it now if you want to read it with us!

What Adam’s Reading: “The Angel’s Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Time for the second installment of “What Adam’s Reading”! It’s been a while since my last one but I promise you I’m a faster reader than this. It’s just that this book took a little more time and effort to get into than I’m used to. Like last time, I included a more detailed analysis in the upfront for you more determined folk, and provided a quick recap at the bottom for the skimmers.

Detailed Narrative:

I originally picked up this book at Borders during their popular buy-one-get-one-half-off promotion. I was already acquainted with Carlos Ruiz Zafon thanks to his first (and awesome) novel “The Shadow of the Wind,” which you should go out and buy immediately if you haven’t already read it.

This book sat on my bookshelf for a while though because I knew that I had to be in the right mood to dive into the dark world that he usually paints. Not only that, it took well over 100 pages to get into the story since no clear plot or goal was outlined. Now, don’t let this deter from reading “The Angel’s Game” because at the end of the day, Ruiz Zafon is an amazing writer. Even though you’re confused as to where the story is going, you can’t help but get lost in the effortless fluidity with which he strings words together.

A great thing about Ruiz Zafon, and probably his biggest weakness, is that he uses a lot of similar elements throughout both of his novels. If you had given me the same book and not told me who the author was, I would have guessed Ruiz Zafon.

First of all, the setting to his stories is usually Barcelona where he currently lives (Like they say, write about what you’re familiar with). Secondly, he is a very dark storyteller. Many a time, you will find yourself in the streets at night or wandering the black halls of an abandoned mansion, waiting for the moment when the enemy’s hulking form is outlined in the doorway.

Finally, and this is what I like most about him, his stories center around books. You can tell he values the written word, and particularly the effort and soul that goes into creating an engaging, sometimes life-changing, novel. All his protagonists are somehow involved in the book industry or are writers themselves, which allows you to take a step back and, in a way, look at the book you’re reading through the eyes of the main characters. They’re willing to sacrifice themselves to save books they believe in. Would you be willing to do the same with the one you’re reading? My typical answer would be “no” but, if I were confronted with someone set on destroying books, I might take a stand.

Overall, I gave this particular novel a B because of the slow start, yet engaging finish. It had me staying up late at night, not only because I was afraid to fall asleep and dream of the “boss” character, but also because he provides plenty of plot twists to keep the pages turning. Worth a read if you’re willing to put in the time.

Bulleted List:

  • Grade: B
  • What it’s about: A bourgeoning author who finds himself over his head when he takes on a project that has supernatural guidelines.
  • Who should read this book: Those that enjoy twists and turns in a dark, gothic setting.
  • When you should read it: At a time when you want to venture away from your typical American bestsellers and tackle some deeper, more international fare.
  • Where to find it: Amazon.com for $18.

Have you read any dark/gothic books lately? What genres appeal to you?

PS: Check out my other book reviews here.