Marge’s Quarterly Book Reviews: Q1 2014 Edition

Goodreads keeps reminding me that I’m behind on my book goal for 2014 so far, but I think, given the fact that I’ve been crazy busy, I’m doing pretty damn good.

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

I was going to Ireland, and I had never read Angela’s Ashes, so that needed to change. Though it took me a while to get into it, I eventually did. What the McCourt family went through in Limerick was just terrible, stuck in a cycle of poverty, with an alcoholic patriarch and sick kids with no money for the doctor. Aside from the fact that he has to steal to help feed his brothers and sisters and try to wrangle his father home from the pubs, little Frankie McCourt has typical boyhood adventures, from selling “scandalous” newspaper pages about birth control to trying to skip out on Irish dance lessons. Ultimately, this is an authentic story of a man who overcame his circumstances, looked past his mistakes and shortcomings, and decided he wanted a better life for himself. I’m looking forward to reading ‘Tis, now.

Looking for Alaska – John Green

I polished off this book at about 2 AM in a nice quiet area of the SeaTac airport. John Green somehow takes YA fiction and elevates it. Everyone, including me, is lauding The Fault in Our Stars, but I thought Looking for Alaska was JUST as good. It deals with love. It deals with loss. It deals with teenagers trying to come into their own and making mistakes. I wanted to take the characters and hug them, because their insights into the events that transcribe through their school year just make my heart hurt. I cried a little bit in the airport. Miles is sick of not having friends, and convinces his parents to send him to boarding school, where he meets a ragtag band of students that become like family. He falls in love with a spitfire of a girl named Alaska…and that’s all I’m going to say. READ IT.

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

I did NOT like this as much as Looking for Alaska. Still good, still John Green, but not AS good as the others, in my opinion. Collin only dates Katherines. He’s been dumped nineteen times, always by a Katherine. After his latest dumping, he and his lovable, comical, and chubby best friend (Hasan) go on a soul-searching road trip, and Collin tries to create a formula that will predict the trajectory of a relationship, using all his Katherines as data points. Collin and Hasan end up in a town called Gutshot, and through their happenstance of a summer job, Collin may just be falling for his first non-Katherine. It was hard for me to finish this one – at points I felt like it would never end. But it did, it had a happy ending, however the road to get there wasn’t satisfying. Read it if you need to round out your John Green collection, but otherwise, meh.

The Ghost Bride – Yangsze Choo

I was actually really into this book, which explored a facet of Asian culture that I’d never heard of before – ghost marriages. Li Lan has no marriage prospects, until she is approached about a ghost marriage to a deceased rich man, heir to a great family fortune. She would be taken care of for the rest of her life (an idea her increasingly impoverished father finds attractive), but would be unable to marry were she to fall in love with someone still breathing. When Li Lan tries to stall the ghost marriage, her spectral intended begins to mercilessly haunt her, especially after she begins to fall for his cousin (who is still alive). Still following? Yeah, it’s confusing. But the background in eastern religion is fascinating, explored through Li Lan’s trip to the afterlife. This wasn’t the best book I ever read, but it sure was interesting, and is worth a read if you are looking for something different.

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery – Robert Kolker

This was my non-fiction true crime for the quarter. Sometimes it read fast, sometimes it read slow, but the fact that things kept unfolding kept me going. This is the story of a Long Island serial killer/s who preyed on Craigslist escorts, culminating in multiple bodies being found in the hunt for a different missing escort. Kolker gets to know each of the girls’ families, and really humanizes them. Many people were critical of the police and some community members during the main investigation because they treated the girls as forgettable, prostitutes who got what was coming to them. Kolker reminds us that they were daughters, sisters, and mothers, most of them just trying to support their families. Add in a creepy, lurking suspect who gives his spin on the story, and this is a well rounded piece of journalism that goes deeper than just the gore and hysteria of the typical mass market true crime.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls – Anton Disclafani 

I didn’t like this book as much as I anticipated, given that I had read stellar reviews in multiple magazines and newspapers. Thea is shipped off to the titular camp by her parents after a mysterious incident occurs within her family. Growing up in the country, Yonahlossee is really her first taste of socialization, and she immediately makes friends with some of the other girls. As the story flashes back to her childhood and the events leading up to her familial expulsion, we see how her past may shape her future. Though Yonahlossee sounds delightful, both the dark shadow of the Great Depression and a secret romance one can see coming from a mile away really give it a serious bent. When you finally learn the family secret (which you can also see coming from a mile away, and it’s pretty cliche), the family awkwardness makes sense. This book was a little all over the place and didn’t live up to the hype. The only redeeming quality for me were the lush descriptions of Yonahlossee.

Hyperbole and a Half – Allie Brosh

This is part autobiography, part comic book, all hilarious. I kept hearing about this book and brushing it off, until my dear friend Katy described it as “just our sense of humor.” And it was. It’s an easy read (I finished it in one night), and I was laughing out loud pretty much the entire time. Brosh manages to make the topic of depression HILARIOUS, which is a hard task, and also really gets to the core of what it feels like, part of the reason I resonated so much with this book. Also, her stories about Simple Dog are hilarious, and I’m pretty sure Simple Dog is related to Ramsay. This vignette of stories and stick figures is short and sweet and definitely worth a read.

A Treacherous Paradise – Hanning Mankel

This took me a while to get through, but it was good. I think. Mankel, who wrote the Wallander series, explores different territory here. Hanna, at 19, is sent away from her impoverished household to make her own way, and ends up on a boat bound for employment in Australia. She falls in love with a sailor, who leaves her widowed before the ship makes its final port. Despondent and confused, Hanna jumps ship in Mozambique (Portuguese East Africa), where she ends up having a miscarriage in a bordello, owned by a fellow European expat. She ends up marrying the expat – again, she is widowed, and suddenly finds herself in charge of said bordello, staffed by native African women with whom she feels nothing in common. Racial themes are explored throughout, as Hanna wrestles with the injustices done by fellow whites and, at the same time, is ostracized by “her own people” based on what she does for a living. This book was good throughout, really thought provoking, but at the end, I didn’t know what to think. Have you read it? What were your thoughts?

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