Monthly Archives: October 2013

Marge’s Quarterly Book Reviews – Q3 2013 Edition

It’s again time for a round of book reviews. I have read a LOT the past few months (I finished three books last weekend, thanks to a cold that basically confined me to the couch), and these are the highlights (with one lowlight).

The Drowning House – Elizabeth Black

I don’t often finish books that I don’t like, but for some reason, I kept going on this one. I think I so WANTED it to get better. But it never did. In fact, if anything, it got worse. Clare, a photographer, is invited back to her hometown of Galveston, Texas, for a photography project by an old family friend (who also happens to be dating her mom. Can you say “drama waiting to happen?”). She hopes that this will give her an opportunity to grieve the accidental death of her daughter, and to reflect on her failing marriage. She then becomes obsessed with an old neighborhood legend involving the Carraday family, whom she befriended and spent time with as a child, slipping into a romance of sorts with one of the wealthy Carraday sons. The old legend tells the story of Stella Carraday, who drowned during a hurricane when her hair became entangled in a chandelier, hanging her. What really happened? Can Clare repair her relationship with her mother, her sister, pretty much everyone in town?

The book jacket made it sound like this would be a modern day take on a gothic mystery, but it wasn’t. It was a jumbled collection of half-assed plots, and before you know it, there’s arson, incest, and old grudges all thrown into the mix. Yes, I said incest. F**king weird. Though I was initially drawn to the cover, which looks identical to an artsy picture of a chandelier I once bought. this book was a warning about choosing books by their covers. I recommend you not waste your time.

The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier

I read a lot of bad-mediocre reviews of this book, but I really enjoyed it. Honor, an English Quaker, embarks on a journey to American with her sister, who is to be married to another Quaker in the midwest. When her sister doesn’t survive the journey, Honor is stuck in this new and growing America, where she knows no one and can’t reconcile her religious lifestyle with the more modern communities she encounters. She clings to the one thing that comforts her: quilting. When she is introduced to the Underground Railroad and told not to assist African Americans trying to escape slavery through its network, she sticks to her Quaker principles of equality and fights for what’s right. Though it’s kind of a cutesy story in parts, Honor’s struggles are real and her internal conflicts became mine. This was a fast read for me, and I recommend it as a piece of historical fiction that will teach you a thing or two about quilting, the Quaker way, and life in the early United States.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

“Life: a constellation of vital phenomena – organization irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” This passage, buried within this complex story, is better than any summary I could write. Set in Chechnya during the time of informants and betrayal, Constellation weaves together the lives of a surgeon, a home grown doctor, and a little girl whose father has been taken during the night. This book is about the relationships and coincidences that draw us together, and the need to sometimes redefine the meaning of family. Sometimes I have a hard time describing the complex and this book is the perfect example. It’s a tough read, but worth it. If you are looking for something to make you think, this is the book you should read.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anne Fowler

I’d read mixed things about Z, but had to read it for myself. The Great Gatsby is a favorite of mine, and its author has always intrigued me. Told through his wife’s eyes, F. Scott Fitzgerald comes off as a horrible husband and father, whether he really was or not. Zelda is initially swept off her feet by “Fitz,” and soon becomes caught up in the life of the nouveau riche from New York City to Paris. She has to deal with Fitzgerald’s ups and downs and incessant self-comparison to every other writer he knows. She has to confront the the bullshit of the early 20th century bohemia where everyone seems consumed by the material, the facade of success, much like in Gatsby. Zelda struggles to find herself in this world, and finally decides that maybe she didn’t know what she was really looking for in life. I struggled to get into this read, but eventually plowed through it. I think it’s written well, and it gets better and better as Zelda starts to stand on her own.

Waiting to be Heard – Amanda Knox

I needed to get my true-crime fix, so when I saw Amanda Knox’s memoir on the shelf, I nabbed it. Just, for the record, I don’t believe that Amanda Knox murdered her study abroad roommate. The evidence sounds sketchy, and not JUST when the accused presents it. Hearing about things from Amanda’s point of view was interesting, especially the time she spent in prison before her appeal or retrial or whatever it is in the Italian court system. She struggled with depression and anxiety, but spent a lot of her time learning Italian and helping others learn English. She made friends. She discussed life with a friendly Italian priest. It’s horrible to read about her eagerness to explore Italy and expand her horizons, and then read about how her time abroad soured, turning millions against her, forcing her to defend herself in a strange place in a foreign language and only a rudimentary understanding of the legal hoops. I feel for her, I do. A memoir is definitely a hard genre to review, as the writing style is just…different, but I think Knox put a lot of thought and time into this, and it shows. I hope that others read her story and attempt to understand exactly what she went through.

Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin – Nicole Hardy

Anyone that grew up with a Christian religion will relate somewhat with this memoir, written by a sassy ex-Mormon. Raised in accordance with church teaching, Hardy committed at a young age to save herself until marriage. When all of her friends started to get married in college, and Hardy had hardly had any romantic relationships to speak of, the commitment started to get more difficult. Essentially, this is a story of how religious rules can sometimes lead to a distorted mindset. There is often so much talk about “saving yourself” that you begin to think sex, anything related to sex, or even finding yourself intrigued by sex, is unclean. Nicole struggles with her lack of desire for the typical Mormon life; she isn’t interested in having children, and she’s not the type to stay at home and make casseroles (not that kids and casseroles are all there is to being Mormon, of course). She breaks down, more than once, wondering “is this really what God wants for my life, for me to be miserable?” Everyone treats her single-ness with sympathy, making her feel like there is something wrong with her.

Slowly, Nicole learns how to accept her differences, and recognizes that the church seems unable to support her. She makes a tough decision that results in a hard conversation with her family, asking them to love her as she is. I can relate with her struggles to some extent, feeling guilty for thinking differently and feeling unsure of the plan for one’s life. Hardy’s prose is easy to relate with and her story poignant. I thought it would be a rough read for me, but it went pretty quickly, and ended up being a thoughtful delight.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaimon

I’ve been reading about this book ever since it first hit shelves, and it sounded intriguing. A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a dark force descending on a pastoral British neighborhood. I read this before I really looked at Gaimon’s list of other titles, and my first impression was “oh my word, this sounds like Coraline!” Little did I know, Gaimon also penned Coraline (a creepy YA book that I read in one sitting while crouching in a corner of Barnes and Noble). These two books manage to be similarly creepy and compelling. A man commits suicide in a stolen car. The next day, a nameless boy wakes up, choking on a coin. He befriends the strange but welcoming Lettie Hempstock, who lives by a pond which she calls an ocean, and learns that his neighborhood has become somewhat of a battleground between good and evil. The nameless boy is forced to confront his imagination and his fears in a battle that WILL take a life, but you’ll have to read it to find out whose. This book is short, exciting, and makes you ponder the end of childhood and the fears we carry.

The Silver Star – Jeannette Walls

Another quick read (that must have been the name of the game the past few months), this is the story of two sisters who are abandoned by their flaky, habitual liar of a mother. Forced to take themselves across the country to show up on the doorstep of a hermit uncle in Virginia, Bean and Liz make friends, learn some family history, and endear themselves to good old Uncle Tinsley. When Liz is harassed by the sisters’ boss, little sis Bean learns just how rough the adult world can be. The town bully (the accused harasser) is not about to be pushed around, and tries to strong-arm his way out of a legal situation, while poor Liz is ostracized by the community. Bean, Uncle Tinsley, and even the flaky mom come around her, and they all discover the true meaning of family. This was a good story, with a well developed and easily imaginable setting, and there’s a surprise ending that really brought the story around. This was another one I had read about in a variety of reviews, and it deserves praise.

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Divergent is being touted as “the next Hunger Games,” a series written for teens but appealing to all. A dystopian future. One girl willing to challenge the status quo. It sounds almost blasphemous, but I think I actually liked Divergent¬†more than Hunger Games. In a society classified by five factions, Beatrice (who renames herself “Tris”) is told that she has to abandon her family and everything she was raised to believe in order to become her true self. Labeled as “divergent,” Tris learns that some people can never give up certain parts of themselves. When Tris starts to spend time with her faction trainer, Four, they discover a plot to overthrow their society, and they have to use their collective talents to save those they love.

I read this in two days, and it was a book that kept me up until the wee hours. The love story was compelling, the setting (a sort of post-apocalyptic Chicago) was well developed, and the story-line was quick moving and exciting. AND this is going to be a movie next spring. I’m totally fandom-ing on Divergent, and I plan on reading the next book ASAP.

Disclaimer – The next few reviews are for the dirty romance novels I read from time to time. Some I chose on my own, some are recommended to me. This is guilty pleasure reading, and there is LOTS of sex. So if that bothers you, I would skip these reviews. If it doesn’t, read on, friend!

Reflected in You (Crossfire #2) – Sylvia Day

So I reviewed the first of the Crossfire series last time around, giving it a pretty positive rating. When I saw the second installment sitting innocently on the shelf at the library, I pounced on it, eager for more of Gideon and Eva and their passionate, less-hokey-than-50-Shades romance. Though both of the characters still had their “moments,” ie. breakup scares and moody silence every 10-15 pages, Reflected in You didn’t disappoint. The sex was still hot, Gideon was still hella rich and manly, there were still crazy hi-jinks every once in a while (who saw the brawl with the musician coming, I mean REALLY). I will be reading books #3-4 as guilty pleasure reading this fall/winter, mark my words.

Aftermath – Cara Dee

Austin and Cam both survived a five-month kidnapping and torture ordeal, and were able to escape and go back to their regular lives. It only makes sense that they share a special connection afterwards, right? Austin and Cam struggle to regain control of their lives, with Austin’s wife expecting him to be unchanged after his ordeal and Cam tormented by nightmares and anxiety. The men spend more and more time together, and then realize that maybe they have become MORE than friends. Is Austin ready to leave his seemingly picture perfect life for a relationship with another man? I read this in about a day and a half. There was LOTS of passion, and the love story was deep and well-formed. The relationship seems genuine and natural. Cam’s anxiety is developed and realistic. If you can handle a lot of gay sex scenes (and I’m not kidding, I mean a LOT), this book is worth it as a hot romance read.

Shattered Glass – Dani Alexander

I’m just going to start by saying that this is NOT as good as Aftermath, in my opinion, but it is, in parts, hilarious. Another leading man named Austin, police detective Austin Glass is intent on ruining a human trafficking operation in Denver. Then he sees Peter working at a diner, and all of a sudden realizes he’s gay and can’t stop thinking about male genitalia and sex. And that’s the first chapter. He fights homosexuality for a while, but eventually cops to the fact that he’s never really been crazy about women. In the meantime, Denver is being overrun by previously mentioned human trafficking, which is entwined with Mexican drug lords, who are working with Russian mob runaways (is Peter¬†really Peter?). The back-story is clearly only there to take up pages. I never really did understand it, to be completely honest. The reason to read this book is that Austin is HILARIOUS. I think Dani Alexander and I must have a similar sense of humor. Austin is constantly telling crass jokes and being awkward, and it makes the book worthwhile. The love story, while not seeming forced, doesn’t always work, but it’s not bad. So basically, this is a cute and hilariously funny gay love story with some dark undertones and a whacked out background plot. But worth a read.

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