Tag 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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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YHL Project #104: Deal with Bookcase Clutter

photo-2If you’ve scrolled through my blog roll, you’ve already stumbled upon DIY pros Sherry and John Petersik, the creators of the popular home improvement blog “Young House Love.” Started as a way to relay to their families the progress on their kitchen renovation, the blog quickly turned into a full website as more and more people visited to get DIY tips.

Fast forward five years and they turned their influx of visitors into an empire that spans from a line of lamps to a book of nearly 250 ways to “show your home some love.”

I was lucky enough to get this tome for Christmas and in case you can’t tell, I’m excited to put it to good use. My roommate makes fun of me for my enthusiasm but let’s be honest, he gets to reap the benefits as much as I do.

One of the simplest things they suggest doing is decluttering bookcases. Some of the ideas include staggering books, being selective about the items you display on the shelves and showing variety. One look to the foot of my bed, and you can tell that this is something I needed to take to heart. See for yourself.

photo-2 copy 3Just in case, you can’t tell what’s wrong, I took the liberty of pointing out each flaw: cards on top, one full row of cluttered knick-knacks, running out of space for books, exposed wires etc. A couple of months ago, I even tried the trick of organizing books by color starting with white of the right and working your way through the rainbow. I quickly learned that I have a LOT of white books and very few of the same color after that. Overall, it just wasn’t working.

Slide1After 30 minutes of editing items off the shelves, mixing up the colors of the books and taking advantage of the depth of the bookcase, I now had something more like this:

Slide1 copyYes, that is the Hallelujah chorus you’re hearing in the background. The differences are obviously subtle but they do revitalize that area of the room. Not only do I have more space for books, it feels cleaner and more deliberate. The best part is that this beautification project cost me $0.

What simple DIY projects have you been up to lately?

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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!

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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?

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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?

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