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.

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

eleanor and park★★★

Sometimes the weird, awkward moments are the moments we fall in love. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell reminds of that in a really refreshing and beautiful way. Everything about the two teens in love is perfectly imperfect and it works really well. Rowell charmingly reminded me how friendships are formed when we’re kids. I truly enjoyed watching Eleanor and Park bond over music and comic books. The initial set up of their friendship really made the ending (which I won’t spoil) all the more meaningful.

Eleanor’s home situation made me cringe, from the first to last page. I appreciate how complicated Eleanor’s feelings were about her family. Throughout the novel, I found myself trying to see the good in her family and hoping it would work out. It’s heartbreaking to know that a lowlife like her stepfather was given so much power over her life. For pretty much the whole book, I wanted to scream at her mother. Rationally, I understand the desperation of Eleanor’s mother, but I still don’t find her to be a forgivable character.

Park’s home life balanced well with Eleanor’s situation. His family wasn’t perfect, but it was about as close as you can get to it. I understand why Rowell made Park’s parents so lovey-dovey in order to illustrate it was a home filled with love. However, it was a little bit cheesy and not very realistic. Nevertheless, Park’s family reminds us all the importance and power of a loving family; just as Eleanor’s family reminds us the consequences of a family without love.

Apparently, it was in development to become a movie, but it got canceled. Hopefully, it’ll get picked up again. I think it would make a great movie, I can see it with a Celeste & Jesse Forever vibe to it.

Overall, worth a read. I gave it three stars instead of four because I thought it was a tad juvenile. I read it online, so I didn’t know when I picked it up that it was in the young adult section.

 

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.

 

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.