Book Review: White Oleander

★★★½Book-White-Oleander-Cover-janet-fitch-5516513-545-800

I came across White Oleander by Janet Fitch on a friend’s reading wish list. It’s the story of a young girl named Astrid who is left to navigate the California foster care system as her mother, Ingrid, is locked up in prison for murder. It’s a coming of age tale, which makes it a little typical, but I think the writing is beautiful and makes it unique. There’s an audio version narrated by Oprah Winfrey that I think really adds to the experience of the novel.

In addition to the poetic diction of the novel, I really appreciated the depth of the characters. If you enjoy watching characters grow up throughout the story, I think you’ll really appreciate White Oleander. Astrid is so innocent when we first meet here, and we watch her grow up. By the end of the novel, you understand why she became who she did. As an outsider looking in, I sympathized with her, even when wholeheartedly disagreed. As a young woman, she was dealt bad cards and she is desperately trying to hold her life together.

And then you get to know her mother… Ingrid is extremely narcissistic but also a brilliant whose prose is beautifully incorporated throughout the novel. Fitch richly brings us into the mind of someone who is truly evil, possibly the deepest illustration of such a personality that I have ever read in a fiction novel.

I gave it three and a half stars because while the plot was a little lackluster, the prose was absolutely beautiful. If you liked The Girls, I would suggest giving this one a try.

This book was also made into a movie, which I have yet to watch:

 

I do not like your face. Murder on the Orient Express Review

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.” – Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express

★★★★

This was a quick, fun “read.” I put read in quotes because I actually listened to this on Audible, who produced a special performance of it, which was fantastic and really added to the experience. Murder on the Orient Express is witty, thought-provoking, and even a little bit scary at times.

Christie (obviously) does a wonderful job with character development. This novel has many caricatured characters. They are dramatic and opinionated, which makes the novel a little bit funny at times. I laughed out loud at this line: “If you will forgive me for being personal-I do not like your face, M. Ratchett.” Just picture Christie sitting there and typing that one out…

A good portion of Murder on the Orient Express takes the format of an interview between the detective and the various suspect allowing for Christie to create really vivid descriptions of each character for the reader. Because there were so many personalities, the story did get a little confusing at times. However, Christie creatively recaps the conversations, further clarifying and reiterating who each character is and their role in the story.

As in all classic detective novels, the big AHAH! moment came in all its drama and glory. I literally had a smile on my face during this part because it was so classic and yet so clever. Overall, Christie was able to invent funny and interesting characters who she brilliantly wove into a thrilling plot.

I got this novel to my “already read shelf” quickly because I am so excited to go see the movie in theaters now. Here’s the full movie trailer, you’ll see what I mean about all the characters:

Book Review: The Husband’s Secret

the_husbands_secret★★

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty follows the lives of three women who don’t know each other very well, but whose lives’ are completely intertwined.  Cecilia’s life is perfect until she finds a letter from her husband containing a dark secret she was only supposed to find out upon his death. Tess is betrayed by her husband and cousin, who kick off the novel by announcing they are in love. Rachel is mourning the death of her daughter, who was brutally murdered years ago.

Part of the reason I enjoyed reading is that I’m naturally a gossipy person (character flaw🤷‍♀️). Getting completely consumed by a novel and the world of its characters helps keep me out of trouble and negative gossip in real life. The Husband’s Secret is an over-the-top version of a conversation I’d have with my girlfriends over coffee while loving every minute of it. The plus side to it being fictional, I get to avoid gossiping while getting all the benefits of a juicy story.

The reasons I gave this novel only two stars? It’s predictable and shallow.

The Husband’s Secret would have been a great two-hour catch up with my girlfriends over coffee. If it were a true story, it’d be a wild one. However, in the age of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, we really can’t call this a thriller. Cecelia’s husband’s secret was quite obvious from the very beginning of the book. Additionally, by half way through I think its pretty clear to see what the gist of the ending will be. I spent about half the novel waiting for the author to get to the inevitable point.

I also found the characters to be quite shallow and frivolous. While Tess was in a very difficult situation from the start – her thought processes and behavior were irritating to read through. I found her to be the most shallow of all the characters, and particularly cringed at all the unnecessary fat-shaming. I think her character could have been cut out completely for the plot to work. The juicy elements of her marriage in shambles seem a bit hodgepodge and didn’t mold well into the rest of the story.

Moriarty also wrote Big Little Lies, which I haven’t read and after reading this probably will not. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the HBO series and was excited to hear it is coming up for a second season. Looks like The Husband’s Secret is being made into a movie, perhaps it will be better than the book.

Overall, a juicy story, but not worth the long read. I read a copy from my local library, but you can get it at any bookstore.

 

Book Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove book cover★★★★★

A Man Called Ove (pronounced oo-veh) by Fredrik Backman tells the story of a “curmudgeon.” He’s a stickler for the rules, keeps a strict and simple way of life, and is quick to lose his temper. This is a tale of unlikely friendships and their profound impact on one old grump’s life. It’s a heartwarming novel that reminds us not to judge a book by its cover (or a person!).

“You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away.”

The novel illustrates some of life’s most important lessons, especially the importance of kindness. The above quote is a major theme in A Man Called Ove, reminding us all that compassion and patience can make the world of difference in someone’s life – and we might not even realize it. I think we all encounter a person like Ove in our lives and it can be difficult to show compassion for such personalities. However, A Man Called Ove shares how sometimes the oddest friendships are exactly what we need in life. From his belated wife, Sonja, to his pushy neighbor, Parvaneh, Ove’s path in life was forged by keeping an open (even if rigid and grumpy) heart. While Ove comes across several new and unlikely friends, my particular favorite is the relationship he forges with a neighborhood stray cat, who seems (to me) to be a symbol of Sonja.

Throughout the novel, we meet Sonia in flashbacks. In my opinion, this was the best part of the novel because Backman so beautifully articulates just how much Ove loved Sonia. I’ll leave a few of my favorite quotes describing her here:

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.”

“Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.” 

“He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced.” 

This is probably one of my favorite books of all time and definitely a top read of my 2017 bookshelf. I read a digital version of A Man Called Ove for free from my local library, you can also get it here.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down: The Handmaid’s Tale Review

handmaids-tale-special-edition-audible-small★★★★★

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale came on my radar in a typical way … just after the TV series came out last spring. After episode two, I decided I needed to stop watching and read the book first – I finally got to it last week. To be honest, I was hesitating to read it. I heard many people say it was scary how well the themes resonate with modern society, and I thought “why aggravate myself?”

Everyone’s right–The Handmaid’s Tale does resonate with many aspects of American society. Reading the book, I could totally see man-made disasters completely destroying the planet and ruining society. I could see religion being used as a cover to impose radical conservatism. One particularly disturbing aspect of the novel was the concept of regressing, particularly with respect to the rights of women. I always think of women as making progress, being better off than their mothers. However, Atwood describes a world where progress can be undone – progress for women, the poor, the environment. This, in my opinion, is the most disturbing part of The Handmaid’s Tale. 

I wondered, but how did Atwood see this coming when she wrote The Handmaid Tale back in 1984?

Turns out she didn’t have to. In a telling essay at the end of the edition I read, Atwood explains she had one rule — everything in the book must be something that has already happened in history. From the handmaids, to the executions, to the clothing, Atwood was (perhaps tragically) inspired by history. She just brilliantly pieced it all together to bring us one, telling novel.

Scary, thought provoking, and bound to become a modern classic. Can’t wait to finish up the series now!

This is the special edition of The Handmaid’s Tale I listened to, complete with Atwood’s clever and telling epilogue and essay.

 

 

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

★★★★

After reading the very intense Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I looked for a light-hearted love story – but apparently I didn’t read the description of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine carefully. Neverthless, I’m happy about the oversight.

Eleanor’s pretentious and witty attitude makes for a really funny and interesting character. Her rigid behavior acts ask both comical relief and and insight to the depth of her state of mind and past. I really appreciate the complexity of her personality. She’s funny and silly about romance, but at the same time she deals with an impossible mother, resulting in substance abuse and depression. I think the many facets of her personality are something many can relate to – a girl who splurges on a new look from “Bobbi Brown” excited about the prospect of meeting a cute musician could very well be the same girl who binge drinks herself into a suicidal state all within a week.

I also absolutely love Eleanor’s new and unlikely friend Raymond. Genuine and easy-going, Raymond is the kind of person I’d want to have as a friend too. It seems so important, considering Eleanor’s life, for her to meet a truly kind person. There’s comfort in a friend that understands the level of complexity of your past without needing all the details. Raymond gives Eleanor that space, but it doesn’t affect their friendship. Raymond also makes it easy for Eleanor to make new friends, another good trait to have in a loved one.

A love story of a different kind doesn’t come around as often as it should. This one is worth the read.

I listened to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine on Audible, also available at other bookstores.