“Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty

Novels

I big_little_lies_coverhad been avoiding reading this book for a very long time. Every single time I read the description I wanted to read it less. The blurb on Amazon describes it as “a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the little lies that can turn lethal.” That literally makes me want to gag. I hate books about middle aged women. Hate them. I almost always have to force myself through them because I never relate to the characters, I’m not interested in housewife drama, and I generally lean more towards books that either have a lot of action, a lot of aliens, are about idiot teenagers in dystopian universes, or a combination of the three. With all that being said, I am so glad I finally read this book.

Don’t get me wrong. Big Little Lies includes a decent amount of what I would consider “housewife drama.” However these women’s lives are so incredibly dramatic that it’s unreal. The book follows three mothers as their children begin kindergarten: Jane, a single mom so young she’s mistaken for a nanny, Celeste, a woman so smart and beautiful it almost seems too good to be true, and Madeline, who is fiery, passionate, and holds a serious grudge. The three women all have their own battles to fight right from the beginning, as well as another one that’s told simultaneously: someone is going to get murdered, and it definitely has something to do with the secrets they are keeping (or not keeping).

This book actually kept me guessing the entire time. I tried my hardest to figure out who was going to get murdered, or who was going to be the murderer, but every guess I made was wrong. There were a shocking amount of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. It was also a decently fast read, but only because I got sucked in so quickly that I had to set aside everything else I was doing until I could finish the book and solve all the mysteries within the story.

The main reason I read this book was because I started watching the miniseries on HBO and loved it. For those who are curious, the final episode airs next Sunday at 8:00, so if you don’t want the show to spoil the ending for you it’s time to get reading. So far, it’s been pretty true to the book other than the fact that it takes place in California in the HBO version and Australia in the novel, and they’ve definitely amped up some of the relationship drama for more TV entertainment. I’m guessing that the killer and victim is going to stay the same though, so watch out for any spoilers you might come across. Overall, Big Little Lies was a very solid read and an even more solid TV show.

Rating: 5/5!

Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chJ4mcy1cpY&t=8s

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“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

fantasy, Novels

I adore Neil Gaiman. I hadn’t read any of his books until early last year, and still haven’t rocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_coveread many of them, but every one I have read has been everything I’d hoped it would be. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot of this one. Some of the reviews I read prior to diving in to this book revealed a big part of the story that I wish I had been able to discover myself, so I am going to be careful not to give anything away.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautiful story about a man who returns to his childhood home (or where it used to be) and is drawn to the old farmhouse at the end of the lane where he remembers playing as a boy. He finds the house still inhabited by the Hempstock women and begins to recall the strange events that took place when he was seven years old, many years ago. The man’s memories come flooding back to him when he makes his way to the pond near the farmhouse, or what his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock referred to as “her ocean.”

The thing I liked best about this book is how imaginative it was. It was written beautifully and I could picture every event that took place without it seeming too much like a fantasy. While this book is definitely categorized as fantasy, nothing seemed over the top or ridiculous. If I had described the entire plot to you, you would say, “that sounds completely ridiculous,” but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written in such a way that you are seeing the world through the eyes of a seven year old boy. Even things that don’t seem real can still make complete sense, and sometimes it’s the not making sense that makes them more real. Things just are. A major theme that stood out to me in this book was the mind of a child and how different it is from the mind of an adult. One quote in particular was my absolute favorite:

Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.”

I’m not sure what else to say about this book, but I think that quote really sums it up. It’s a quick read, only 180 pages. I easily could have read it in one sitting had I not had to go to work. If you like fantasy, or if you aren’t sure you like fantasy but are a little intrigued, give it a try.

Rating: 5/5

“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman

Books I Hated, Novels

A Man Called Ove is about a curmudgeon of an old man who hates everyone and everything that does a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_hrnot act or work the way he wants them to. He sees the world in black and white, right and wrong, useful or useless. He spends his days running through routines that have been set for years and finds interacting with his neighbors to be completely intolerable. Ove has suffered a great loss and is dealing with the passing of his wife. And by “dealing with the passing of his wife” I mean planning his own death so he can be with her. Pretty bleak, right? Enter Ove’s new neighbors, a young couple and their two children who seem to interrupt every attempt Ove makes at finding peace. I would assume the rest of the book is about them weaseling their way into his crusty little heart.

I did not finish this book. I couldn’t do it. I hated it. It pains me to say I hated it because it came highly recommended to me by multiple people and is a New York Times Bestseller with fantastic reviews, but I hated it. Perhaps I didn’t give it enough of a chance, but after sitting down with it every day for days on end and only being able to read a few pages at a time without growing bored or literally falling asleep, I gave up.

A Man Called Ove seems like it could be a very heartwarming story about a man who lost the light of his life only to find it again in a friendship with his new neighbors. I understand that people like reading about that kind of thing. I am not one of those people. I officially gave up at page 129 of 357. Ove was not a likable character and I did not empathize with him. Sure, his backstory was interesting but I felt like it didn’t justify his behavior. I was also shocked to discover he is only 59 yet spends the entire first third of the book acting like he is 95.  This book had a slow start and characters that did nothing to catch my attention or make me want to keep reading. The neighbor family was annoying and almost seemed like a caricature or exaggeration of themselves. I also wasn’t crazy about the writing style, as it seemed repetitive and a little over the top to me.

This book has 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon, so the majority of readers enjoyed it. This type of fiction is not my cup of tea and I was very hesitant to read it in the first place, but clearly A Man Called Ove is doing something right. Maybe between books in the future I’ll try to keep pushing through it and provide another review if I ever finish, but for now I think I’ll put it back on the shelf.

Rating: 2/5, Did Not Finish

 

“Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell

YA Fiction, YA Romance

Those who pass up this book because it looks like it was written for fourteen-year-olds are really missing out. I first heard about Eleanor and Park from my mother, who told me I absolutely h15745753ad to read it. My mom typically reads books about women struggling to survive in East Asia or queens getting their heads cut off, so it was a strange recommendation coming from her. I went for it.

Eleanor and Park is the story of two teens in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. Park is 5’4″, half-Korean, into punk music and black t-shirts, and doing his best to maintain just enough popularity in order to avoid being the weird kid. Eleanor is a big (she says fat) redheaded girl who dresses in eccentric clothes and is impossible not to notice, despite the fact that all she wants is to be invisible. When Eleanor sits next to Park on the bus on the way to school, Park is sure she’s ruined his stint of popularity for him. Over the course of a school year, Park and Eleanor slowly fall in love despite all the things holding them back. Eleanor and Park is a fantastic story of first love, how awkward it can be, and how it takes every last breath out of you.

Eleanor and Park is not a particularly fast read. I read it slowly and carefully, not wanting to miss a single detail. I’m a sucker for love stories, and this one captured me immediately. I felt like the characters were genuine and ridiculous – what most teenagers in love typically are. It was witty and cheesy and fun. It was awkward. It was everything you would expect a novel about two in-love teenagers in Nebraska would be. I also think it’s the best of Rainbow Rowell’s books, because there’s also a level of seriousness to the entire thing. People tend to dismiss high school romances, but Rowell does a fantastic job of presenting it as the most important thing that has ever happened to Eleanor and Park. It wasn’t something fleeting, it was forever.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book before any of Rainbow Rowell’s others. Fangirl and Attachments are both good in their own right, but in my opinion are fast reads and make no lasting impressions. Eleanor and Park is good for those who want to branch out into reading YA Fiction but don’t want to feel like they’re reading a book written for kids. It’s good for someone who wants to read a book about love and romance with an added layer of innocence.

Rating: 5/5!

 

“City of Thieves” by David Benioff

Historical Fiction

Prior to reading “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, I knew pretty much nothing about Russia. Now I know that it sounds terrible. During World War II, at least.

benioffLev is a very self-conscious Jewish teenager living in Leningrad during World War II, trying his hardest to stay alive. When he gets arrested for looting the body of a German pilot, he finds himself stuck in a jail cell with Kolya, a twenty two year old Slavic deserter and aspiring novelist. Rather than being killed for their crimes, they are given a special assignment instead: the Colonel’s daughter is having a wedding in a few days, and she wants a wedding cake. So begins Lev and Kolya’s mission to find a dozen eggs to bake the Colonel a cake and spare their lives.

As ridiculous as the premise sounds, I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Filled with dark humor, the relationship between Lev, a shy, awkward, teen, and the confident and cocky Kolya never ceased to be entertaining. Benioff communicates the horrors of war in a way that made me feel like I was laughing at all the wrong moments. For example, when he states that cannibals go for the buttocks first because that’s where you can make the best patties from. Horrifying, yet funny. Lev and Kolya’s misadventures provided a lighthearted story that is layered on top of a more dark and depressing narrative.

I typically have issues with books about Russia, mostly because the words are hard to pronounce and I had a bad experience with “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in high school. However, Benioff provides an accurate picture of life in Russia while keeping things interesting enough to want me to keep reading. All in all a pretty solid piece of historical fiction with enough humor to keep me going, not too much romantic fluff, and characters I felt I could relate to on a personal level.

4/5

 

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

We are simply going to ignore the fact that I haven’t posted a review since February.

atwoodIf you haven’t read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, stop everything you’re doing and go read it. I’m serious. I love this book. This is my second time reading the dystopian novel, and it was just as good as the first. Written in 1985, “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t exactly hot off the presses, but a surprising amount of people I know haven’t heard of it. Now you don’t have an excuse.

Atwood’s novel takes place in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead in the near-future. Society as we know it has collapsed and a new military has taken over, fueled by extreme religious motives that begin integrating their way into society slowly, at first, and then flipping the world upside down. In this new society, women are expected to go back to their original biblical purpose of existing only to be at the disposal of men. In this new society, women have been made barren from chemicals in the air, nuclear disasters, and sexually transmitted diseases, so those who have the ability to conceive are collected and re-educated into Handmaids, who will repopulate the Republic of Gilead. Those unable to conceive are declared Unwomen and sent away. Those who are lucky are made Wives of Commanders, but they are few and far between.

Offred, a Handmaid and our narrator and protagonist, exists for one sole purpose: to conceive. She lives under the control of her Commander and once monthly endures his visits in hopes she may become pregnant and avoid being declared an Unwoman. Like all handmaids, she is forced to wear long red dresses and white winged habits that block her vision and prevent her from seeing her surroundings in her cruel world. She lives a life in which she has no rights. Her name is not even her own, literally meaning Of Fred, taking the name of her Commander.

As we learn about Offred’s world and life in Gilead, we discover that this frightening dystopia is not far off from the present. Offred remembers a time where she had her own family, her own job, and a happy life where women were equal to men.

While many might think that this book sounds a little too far-fetched and feminist to be taken seriously, for me it shows just how quickly things can really go south. In a matter of a few years, everything Offred knows is taken from her and her life is completely changed. While the premise might sound impossible to those of us living the privileged life in the Western world, Atwood makes a point to keep things real by ensuring that all the events that have happened in the Republic of Gilead have also happened, at some point, in real life. If you’re looking for a good read that’s beautifully written and a bit of a reality check, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is definitely for you.

4.5/5

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

gbmm6lnThe Road by Cormac McCarthy has some seriously mixed reviews on Goodreads. This surprises me, considering it’s won several awards and was made into a movie in 2009. You’re probably like, “why are you reviewing a book that was published 10 years ago? Who even cares?” Whatever, dude. I’ve never read it, it always pops up on different book recommendation websites and threads on reddit and on my “Recommended for You” in the Kindle Store, so why not. Here’s what I thought of The Road:

I definitely should not have finished this book in the middle of class. This book is, in my opinion, more horror than post-apocalyptic fiction. It tells the story of a nameless man and his nameless son traveling south in a version of our world completely devoid of life. Some horrifying event has left the Earth scorched, lifeless, and covered in ash so thick the days blend into the nights. Animals and plants are no longer able to survive. Few humans are left, and the ones who are aren’t the kind you want to be friends with. There you have the basic plot. The story is simple but the events that took place left me both horrified yet hoping that somehow the man and the boy would find a way to persevere. To continue “carrying the fire,” so the man would say.

I’m typically the kind of person that likes more prose-y writing, so this book really did it for me. I know a lot of people aren’t into the whole poetic, minimalist writing style. If that’s not your thing, you might have a hard time with this book. The dialogue can sometimes be difficult to follow due to the lack of punctuation, often apostrophes are left out and quotations are gone entirely. I’m totally cool with that. I think it makes me pay more attention, figure out what’s happening, which character is feeling what. It did get confusing at times. The Road redeems itself in this aspect with the descriptions McCarthy provides. Even though the world he’s describing is completely horrifying, it’s beautifully written.

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it”

I loved The Road and I hated The Road. I loved the prose-like feel of it and I thought while the story was relatively simple it kept me engaged the whole time, and I hated it because it made me want to cry. Like I said, I shouldn’t have finished this book in the middle class. It left me depressed and horrified, which is exactly what I wanted it to do.

Rating: 5/5