Monthly Archives: January 2011

Book Review: The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown

Shakespeare and book fans: this is a book you’ll want to read. I am just going to come outright and say it: I really, really liked The Weird Sisters! I liked the characters and I liked the story — it was perfect in so many ways. I was wary at first because it reminded me initially of The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman, which I really hated (read it last year), but then it grew on me. The narrator-who’s-a-sister-but-you-don’t-know-which-one was great for me. I loved the story of how the sisters grew close. Honestly, it wasn’t even that original of a story (three sisters with secrets come home after their mom is diagnosed with breast canter), but it was just really, really good.

That said, I did find it irritating that sometimes it took forever to get to an important plot point. Like Cory’s pregnancy. Oh my word, I seriously thought I would lose my mind before it was revealed. (And I have a nook, and I can tell you that I was 66% of the way through the book before it was revealed.) For something that’s given away on the book jacket, I would think it would be given attention earlier in the novel.

Read, read, read away!

Rating: 8.5/10

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Book Review: Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls

The first book by Jeannette Walls, The Class Castle, was magnificent. It was one of the best novels I read during my capstone experience my final semester of my undergrad experience. So when I saw that Half Broke Horses was out, I was excited, until I read its description. It just didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Then I joined a very informal book club, and this was the first book they picked, so I sucked it up and bought it online.

This is no Glass Castle, but that’s not to say it’s not amazing in its own right. The story of Lily Casey Smith is a fun one. One thing I love about the way Walls writes is her short, choppy chapters. Could she structure her material in such a way that the chapters were longer and fewer in number? Of course. But part of the charm is the smaller pieces of these stories, which make sense as a whole. It’s how life works — we are short and choppy, and these short, choppy pieces make up the whole of us.

I would have loved to know Lily. I didn’t always agree with what she did and said, but she is fun. Her story is fun. Her life, at least what is presented on the pages of Half Broke Horses, is fun, and I want to know her more and more. Unfortunately, that’s not possible,

The only thing that serviced as a serious distraction to me while I was reading was the voice. Maybe if I hadn’t read The Glass Castle, I wouldn’t’ve noticed. However, the voice of Lily occasionally gets lost in Jeannette Walls’ voice. Oh, the story is excellent and captivating regardless, but there are moments where I am acutely aware that it isn’t Lily who’s sharing her story with me, it’s her granddaughter. I can only imagine how difficult it is to tell the story of someone who lived 70 or more years ago, so I can’t blame her — but it’s just something to be aware of as you’re reading.

If you’re a fan of biographies or historical novels, then I recommend picking this book up!

Rating: 8.5/10

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Book Review: The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife is a book I’ve wanted to read for quite a while. I kept looking at it at Barnes and Noble, and then putting it down again. Finally when I got a lot of gift cards for Christmas, I included it in my purchase. I wish I’d bought it sooner is all I can say. As usual, there are some spoilers; I will refrain from posting the biggest ones.

This is both a historical novel and a contemporary mystery woven together. From the historical aspect, I think Ebershoff did some great research. He does say in his author’s note at the end of the novel that he did take some liberties in areas that were not well-documented, and I appreciated that he owned up to that. Regardless of that, however, I think he did a great job of reproducing, in more modern language, the tale of Brigham Young’s 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young. Many times I found myself so intrigued with the real, historical aspects of the novel that I went on a 30- or 45-minutes Google spree, looking up more information. And in terms of the modern mystery? A sect of Mormons, calling themselves the First Latter-day Saints (or Firsts), has experienced the murder of one of the group’s husbands, and all evidence points to his 19th wife. It’s up to her son, Jordan (who has been kicked out of the Firsts for “holding his step-sister’s hand”) to figure out who really did it and free his mom. Eventually, the two time periods meet in a way that is somewhat unexpected but nevertheless interesting.

One thing I thought was very effective with the structure of this novel is how the author played with form and voice. Throughout the 507 pages (in the paperback edition), there a variety of different forms and voices used: normal narrative from Ann Eliza and Jordan’s point-of-view, newspaper clippings, emails, instant messages, Brigham Young’s diary, correspondence, etc. It feels very Jodi Picoult to me (which is a good thing, I guess, because against my better judgment and despite her last two books I am a fan).

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there? This novel, despite the fact that I really, really liked it and would recommend it to others, does have its flaws. Although I liked how Ebershoff used different forms to tell this tale, he lacked a difference in voice from his characters from the 1800s. The way Ann Eliza wrote and the way Brigham Young wrong and the way Lorenzo Dee wrote — they all sound exactly the same. It bothered me to never experience a difference between the two.

And while I’m picking bones, there is a relationship between Jordan and another character that just goes from zero to nothing like THAT. It took me by surprise, and I felt like it was not needed to tell the story. Jordan’s work could have been accomplished had that character merely remained a new friend as opposed to a new, possible lover. It was so gimmicky and forced and I think anyone who reads it would feel the same.

My only other “meh” feeling about this book is the way the history and the mystery tie together. It isn’t really that shocking, and it’s never really clearly revealed, and that bothered me, especially when I was reading the reader’s guide at the back of the book and saw that one of the questions said something along the lines of “When did you figure how how Ann Eliza and Jordan’s stories connected?” I’m pretty quick on these things, and I didn’t get it until I was told.

Overall, though, I liked this book. A lot. Mostly awesome writing, and a fun, intriguing story.

Rating: 7.5/10

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Book Review: One Day, David Nicholls

Warning: this review will contain spoilers. I will warn you when they start so you can either stop reading to attempt to skip over them.

There are sometimes books I pick up in Barnes and Noble, want to buy, and then don’t. One Day was one of them. I’m not sure what it was that kept me from throwing it onto my tower of novels, but it wasn’t until I got a bajillion dollars in B&N gift cards for Christmas that I bought it online. My overall impression: I’m glad I read it. I found it really enjoyable, for the most part. And I loved the concept — following the lives of Emma and Dexter (Dex and Em, Em and Dex) on the same day, Jul5 15th, during the twenty years that span after their college graduation.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this novel so much is because it comes across as very much character-driven instead of plot driven. Oh, I have no problems with a good plot, but sometimes I just get so caught up in action and moving forward that I quit paying attention to the characters. Given the structure of this novel — most chapters are a year later than the previous chapters — the book literally moves forward but its real focus is on the development of Dexter and Emma. And the best part was that I could really relate to some of the things that the characters go through, namely Emma. The struggle for identity, the desire for a person you shouldn’t want but want anyway… and those are just a few that I think most 20-somethings could relate to.

Warning: HERE ARE WHERE THE SPOILERS START. Don’t say you weren’t warned!


So I think my last paragraph makes it really clear that I like Emma. A lot. Because I can relate to her (although there are some ways in which I hope I never relate to her, but we’ll get there in a minute.) But I didn’t really feel the same way about Dexter. I know he’s very much like a real person, and in being real he struggles with alcohol and drug addiction (mostly just alcohol). But he is pretty much a bastard the entire novel. And any time there was some kind of humanity in him, he went and pissed me off all over again. In some ways, he reminded me of Alex Karev on Grey’s Anatomy. I will never like Alex, because every time they make him slightly less of a dirt-bag, the producers do something to make me hate him even more. Same with Dexter. He never really rises above in my mind, not even when he finally, finally, finally gets with Emma.

And then there is Emma. Emma, who I genuinely liked. Emma, whose arc was so real and true to me. Emma, who was hit by a car while she was riding home from the pool on her bicycle and Emma, who died as a result of being hit by said car. I was actually kind of pissed off at that point. All this build up and then she’s gone. Of course, it was a good way to show Dexter’s unchanging characterization, but it was the worst part of the book to me. And I thought the few chapters after Emma’s death were by far the weakest in the book.

Okay. Spoilers are done. I think. So still read with caution.

In general, I did really like the book, and would recommend it to others. It’s not a long, hard read, but it’s also not a light, trite read — it falls neatly in the middle, with its humor and its more serious moments.

Rating: 8.5 (until the stupid end, then 5!)

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Book Review: Nicoale: The Rise of the Antichrist, Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins

Cannonball Read III Count: 2

I read Nicolae: The Rise of the Antichrist (and a lot of other Left Behind books) a long time ago, when I was a senior in high school and lived with Steph’s family. So it’s literally been ten years, exactly, since I read it. It’s hard to critique a book like this, because it does have its strong points and its weaker points. And it’s hard to review an older book, simply because it’s not fresh in people’s minds anymore, and most people aren’t looking for a recommendation on books that were published in 1998. (Sheesh, that sounds like so long ago!)

That said, here is what I will say. I am a Christian, so reading this series for me is part pleasure, part informational. I really think it’s a great series — part fun and part fearful, but fearful in a way to find God. If that is what you are looking for this is your book. There are so many different elements that make this novel so compelling and such a fast year (I read it in just a few days) — there is action (plane chases and earthquakes and chases in general), there is friendship, there is romance, and there is love. It appeals to a wide variety of readers, which is a perk, I think. Too many books like this have a small audience, but there truly is something for everyone in here, all while delivering a message. I also enjoy how the points of view are constantly shifting — we’re getting people’s reactions in real time, instead of only one character or one character per chapter. We know what people are thinking at the same time.

That said, it feels like some parts of this book were way too descriptive for me. I’m not talking about the parts where the Bible is explained. I mean the parts about how the car falls into a ditch, once with Chloe in it and once with Buck during the earthquake, and both times comes out still functioning. I’m talking about the description of the hiding place at the church. It’s written the way a man would describe, which is a silly, trite complaint, I know, but thus far it’s been something consistent about the series. There is a lot of violence, which some people might not like, but it’s basically the end of the world as we know it — violence is part and parcel, if you ask me.

Rating: 6.5/10

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