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:

 

Book Review: The One-In-A-Million Boy

The-One-in-a-million-boy-by-Monica-Woods★★★★

After finishing The One-In-A-Million Boy by Monica Wood, I am an emotional wreck. Within the first chapter of the book, we learn the nameless, “one-in-a-million” boy has died and we are left with the aftermath of this tragedy. One interesting element of this novel is the absence/presence of “the boy.” From the very first chapter, we know that he is gone, and yet he permeates everything. I absolutely love the way Wood never lets us hear from the boy. We are only left with the reactions to him. While studying art in college, one technique I learned was to only draw empty space and let the un-drawn space on the paper create the image. Wood is taking a similar approach to building everything but the main character to draw us into him.

The boy left behind three essential characters we follow throughout the novel: his parents, and an elderly neighborhood woman. Each is uniquely complicated, deeply flawed, and tragic in their own way. Quinn, the boy’s father, is selfish, immature, and filled with regret. Belle is a grieving mother, riddled with guilt, frustrated by her (now twice-over) ex-husband. Ona is an extremely lonely, elderly woman, and the main medium through which we learn about the boy through a series of one-sided interviews.

Ona was my favorite character – she’s the type of character who teaches you something. Whether that be the difference between “persuading” and “convincing,” or recognizing the people who come into your life, even for a short time, and leave a lasting impact. She’s filled with understated wisdom, a life of hard lessons shared with the benefit of retrospect.

If you liked A Man Called Ove and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I would suggest picking this one up. Quinn reminds me of Ove and the boy reminds me Oskar. It’s pretty sad, but it’s also clever, funny, and heartwarming.

I won’t talk about it, but I LOVE the ending. It’s just perfect.

Here’s an interview with author Monica Wood:

How Do You Be Married? A Book Review

★★★

I should preface this review by stating I am a recently engaged young woman. Naturally, the title of Jo Piazza’s How to be Married caught my eye. I’m about to get married and have no idea “how to!”

I truly enjoyed traveling all over the world with Jo, and seeing that she asks the same questions I do. I loved hearing from other cultures about what is important to their relationships and keys for success. At times in the book, I wholeheartedly disagreed with the advice given. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s still useful to hear other people’s perspectives.

One thing I wish was different: the amount of time Jo and her husband have been together. As a woman about to marry my high school sweetheart who I’ve dated for seven years, I find it very easy to dismiss some of Jo’s personal advice. I know it’s her life and so she can’t change the amount of time she’s been with her husband… but I think I would have found more validity in someone whose relationship wasn’t quite so new.

Still, I thought it was fun and will be passing it along to some of my engaged friends!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Hated Loving It: Pride and Prejudice Book Review

Pride-And-Prejudice-Book-Cover-Locket-Necklace-keyring-silver-Bronze-tone-B0964★★★★

Perhaps I read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen because everyone I know assumes I already read it. I seem like the kind of girl who would get wrapped up in and fawn over a Jane Austen novel. Assumptions were correct, I am that kind of girl. What surprised me most is how many mixed feelings the characters in this novel gave me.

Is Austen poking fun at the ridiculousness of how obsessed  the women of her time (and even now) were with finding a husband? If Austen is being sarcastic, then I find her very funny and agree. However, even the presumably most sensible character in the book, Elizabeth, is still obsessed  with finding a husband – even when she prides herself on not being as silly as her mother and sisters.

As someone who identifies as a feminist, it irritates me to the core how much all the Bennet sisters think about finding husbands. And yet, I still find myself reading alongside them thinking “yeah, Charles is being such a jerk right now!” For this reason, I really have to give Pride and Prejudice four stars. Austen has perfectly articulated the contradiction of being a feminist but also a girl with a crush. My original inclination was to call the book archaic and offensive. However, as I came to the conclusion that many readers will find that they are half the time poking fun at Mrs. Bennet and half the time wondering when Mr. Darcy is going to re-enter the novel and save the day.

I swooned when Mr. Darcy said, “My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” while cringing at his apprehension about falling for Elizabeth. What’s a girl to do?

In her book Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay wrote, “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” While I don’t think I’m a “bad feminist” for liking this book, I think Gay’s sentiment definitely encourages me to keep fighting the good fight for women and keep loving whatever it is that I love. Mr. Darcy included.

All in all, yes, read this book. Be comfortable with all your mixed feelings and appreciate that Austen is presenting the world as complicated and contradictory as it truly is.

I got a copy from my library, but there are a bunch of different prints and versions which can be found in any bookstore. I will probably also be purchasing something Pride and Prejudice themed from an Etsy shop soon.

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:

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone…16 Years Late

HP★★★★

Better late than never! I finished JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone just before Thanksgiving. I tried to read the Harry Potter series when it came out in 2001 (my brother is a huge fan), but at the time I was a too little young. Since then, I watched and loved all the movies but decided somewhere along the line that I hate the entire fantasy genre. Obviously, I was just depriving myself of magical glory. Moral of the story: don’t label yourself out of any genre… you never know!

For this one, be prepared to fully immerse yourself in the magical world of Hogwarts and the wonderful characters that fill it. I read this one in about four days, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. Rowling does a fantastic job of setting the scene and building the characters. It’s worth staying up a little bit later for.

I particularly loved Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts. I always seek symbolism in animals and how characters treat them. Hagrid’s compassion for even the most dangerous creatures warms my heart completely. The scene in the dark woods with Fang the boarhound really made me laugh. Picture a big giant “dog-like’ creature who is scared of the smallest things, a little bit like Hagrid, himself.

I haven’t read a series in quite a while, and I’m looking forward to continuing this series. As someone who truly thinks of characters in books as friends, I look forward to a long journey with this group! I’m onto Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and will keep you posted on my thoughts and progress.

I got a copy of this one from my local library, but it’s available at any bookstore. Also, if you haven’t seen the movie, definitely get on that!

 

 

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.