Monthly Archives: August 2011

Book Review: Every Last One, Anna Quindlen

Cannonball Read: 53

Mary Beth is a happy mom, wife, and business owner. She’s got twin boys and a daughter about to start her senior year of college, and is very involved in her kids’ lives. When her daughter announces that she is planning on breaking up with her long-time boyfriend, Mary Beth is a little concerned because Ruby can’t seem to give her a good reason for it, but her concerns are quickly put to the side as she deals with her son Max’s depression. It is during her attention to her son that her family is blindsided by a truly shocking act of violence that will forever change them.

I was not in love with this book for reasons I can’t explain. The style of writing just didn’t resonate well with me. But will I will say that this book had going for it is that, while I figured out easily and early on who would commit the act of violence, I didn’t see what this person did. Did. not. see. it. coming. At all. I usually read reviews online of the books I’m starting to get a general idea, and for some reason I tried not to read any that posted spoilers. And I’m so glad I didn’t because the violence really did take my breath away and left me stunned.

It’s an okay book. Better than some, worse than others. I could see this being the perfect kind of book for a book club read, or just by someone looking for something different.

Overall Rating: 7/10

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Book Review: Divergent, Veronica Roth

Cannonball Read: 52

(Side note: Hell yeah! I did it!)

Divergent is the 9287365th young adult dystopian novel I’ve read this year. Its premise, in short: Beatrice Prior lives in dystopian Chicago, and society has been  divided into five factions. Each faction values one specific trait over all others: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Each year, 16-year-olds are given an assessment and chose which faction they will belong to. Beatrice is given her assessment, and finds out she is “divergent” — and is told in no uncertain terms by her assessor to keep that a secret. Beatrice decides that she no longer wants to live in Abnegation, but in Dauntless, and so begins a grueling initiation process that involves pain, fear, suffering, and immense amounts of bravery. Of course, this is a dystopian novel, so something goes wrong, and when it does, Tris (as she renames herself) nearly ends up dead.

Riding on the tailcoats of The Hunger Games, this book is different enough to be enjoyable. It’s still got that Games-esque twist (the selection of factions and resulting initiation process compared to the hunger games) to keep the plot action-packed. I really loved Tris’ interaction with the rest of her family, and the development of friends in a place where it’s hard to trust anyone. For kids and readers who enjoy books like this, I would highly recommend it.

Overall Rating: 8/10

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Book Review: Breaking Night, Liz Murray

Cannonball Read: 51

Who hasn’t seen the Lifetime movie Homeless to Harvard? I loved it when it first came out, and when my mom told me Liz Murray from that movie (and from real life!) was going to be the keynote speaker at an event she was attending, I jokingly told her, “Get me her autograph.” Well, then my mom came home with this book autographed for me! It’s a good thing I totally loved it because I’ll never be able to get rid of it!

This is Liz’s story of growing up and surviving. It’s a detailed looked at her life from birth until her high school graduation, and even a quick summary at the end of life after graduation. And let me tell you, her life really sucked. Drug addict parents. Ditching school. Living a pretty sad life. If you have any kind of a heart, you will be as horrified as I was reading this (and for me to be horrified is a big deal, because I had a childhood of my own that could rival Liz’s). Yet she somehow had the strength (in the educational world we call this kind of strength “resiliency”) to get through the years, even if her “getting through” was done in an unorthodox manner. She didn’t really attend high school for her first two years, and then it was a different school, taking as many courses as she could fit into her day. And then she survived.

Needless to say, this book really moved me. I think if you are looking for an essential truth to your life, you can find it here. Two points that I took away from this book:

“‎’Homeless person or business person, doctor or teacher, whatever your background may be, the same holds true for each of us: life takes on the meaning that you give it.”

Liz is not someone who is trapped by her past or by the things that others did to her. She is living a life that’s been given meaning by her own actions, not those by others. It is refreshing to me to see someone who could very easily fall into that “cycle” accept personal responsibility for what she can change. How very Viktor Frankl of her.

The other thing is this:

“In the years ahead of me, I learned that the world is actually filled with people ready to tell you how likely something is, and what it means to be realistic. But what I have also learned is that no one, no one truly knows what is possible until they go and do it.”

So many people, young and old alike, think that because others think they can do this or that or the other, they can’t. Well guess what. You never know what you can or cannot do until you get your ass out there and just do it, or at least try.

Grab a copy of this book and be inspired!

Overall rating: 10/10

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Book Review: Distant Shores, Kristin Hannah

Cannonball Read: 50

I “discovered” Krisin Hannah last year and have loved her books. She’s like a slightly watered down version of Jodi Picoult, minus the lawyer drama. Anyhow, I’ve been peppering my reading with some of her older novels, and while I’ve enjoyed most, Distant Shores was very disappointing to me. I don’t have it in me to do a lengthy, in-depth review, but let me just put it out there.

Former artist Elizabeth is feeling miserable in her marriage to Jack, a former football star turned pain pill addict (although he’s since kicked the addiction). When he is offered a huge, big job in New York, she decides to stay at home and “find herself” while he works. She is also left to grieve for her father, who passes away suddenly, and attempt to connect with Anita, her step mother, to whom she has never been close — all while hiding the truth from her two college-aged daughters.

This book left me with a bad taste in my mouth because I feel like I’ve read it in a hundred other trashy beach reads. It’s not that it was overly dramatic — it was just way too blah. I can do — and appreciate — drama. But what I don’t like is boring and predictable, and this was both. Jack gets tempted while he’s alone in New York? Saw it coming way before it happened. Elizabeth kisses/nearly kisses her art teacher? Saw it coming way before it happened. Elizabeth and her stepmom connect? Saw it coming way before it happened. And on and on and on… Just disappointing to me.

So if you’re looking for a truly mindless read, pick up Distant Shores. Otherwise, pass for something a little better.

Overall Rating: 4/10

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Book Review: 703, Nancy Makin

Cannonball Read: 49

I randomly grabbed this book while at the library at work two weeks ago. Its premise is pretty simple: it’s the story of Nancy Makin, who writes about her weight gain, the catalyst for losing the weight, and the aftermath.

I’d read some reviews right after I checked this out that made me somewhat wary to read it. I found it surprisingly much more enjoyable than I expected. Many people were upset that Makin didn’t detail what it was, exactly, that she did to lose all that weight, but that didn’t bother me. For me, this was more about her ultimate destination than it was about the journey. (But she does talk about how she packed it on, and how she lost it: she found a world online in chat rooms where people didn’t look at her and think, “Fat. Gross.” In doing that, she gained the courage to make little changes in her life, and that resulted in her dramatic weight loss.)

Although this isn’t the most well-written book I’ve read, I think it really struck a chord with me because it made me realize how judgmental I am when I see people who are heavier. This book really made me stop and see that behind every “large” face I encounter, there is an entire set of emotions behind it. And it also made me realize how easy it is to spiral out of control. I’ve gained a bit of weight since I graduated high school ten years ago, and I’ve always thought, “I’ll never get THAT big.” Well, who actually thinks they will? It just happens, usually gradually. So in short, this was an excellent book to really make me think about others and my own life as well.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

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Book Review: 3 Willows, Ann Brashares

Cannonball Read: 48

I’ve read most of Ann Brashares’ novels because when the Sisterhood series came out, I fell nicely into that age bracket. I’m currently reading some Stephen King, so 3 Willows seemed like a good book to read while I was lying in bed at night, too creeped out to sleep. Plus, I liked the “plug” on the cover: “the sisterhood grows.” Ultimately I think I should’ve been more wary of that, because they (the publishers? Brashares? book fairies?) literally meant the Sisterhood.

Quick summary: three girls, all about to start high school, all looking for herself. Ama is the brain, and she wins a scholarship to a summer program. Instead of getting sent to a prestiogious college, she has to endure an adventure course in the mountains where she can’t have any product to control her crazy hair. Jo spends the summer bussing tables while on vacation with her mom and falls for a gorgeous guy. And Polly? Polly’s mom is artsy, and a feminist, and has never told Polly anything about her family. When Polly finds out her grandma was a model (supposedly), she clings to this and decides she, too, wants to become model. The girls became friends when young, and have since drifted apart, but are always linked through the three willow trees they planed when they were young.

I thought this was an okay book. Truthfully, there wasn’t really anything special about it, and I feel like in many ways it tried too hard to recreate the magic of the Sisterhood. (One of the things that irritated me the most about it was its constant references to the Sisterhood books. In some ways this novel tried too hard to ride on its predecessors’ success, and it was very distracting.) A group of girls, who’ve drifted apart, reconnected by a mystical force (in this case, these willow trees). Meh. Read it before. Like five times, actually.

But that’s not to say this book is bad. It’s not. It would be an excellent book for its intended audience, which is probably late middle school or early high school. For older readers, it is predictable.

Overall Rating: 7/10

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Book Review: Never the Bride, Cheryl McCay and Renee Gutteridge

Cannonball Read: 47

Jessie wants to be married. In a bad way. The worst way, actually. Really, she’s become obsessed with finding her “other half.” And then one day, God shows up. Really. God. He takes on a form and everything. The book then becomes about God writing Jessie’s love story instead of Jessie writing it.

I don’t have it in me to write an essay, so I’ll just cut to the chase: I really enjoyed this book in its entirety. It was a fun read, a quick read, and somehow it still managed to be a thought-provoking read for me as well. There are certainly some awkward moments in McCay’s storytelling, such as when the manner of Jessie’s parents’ death is revealed, and sometimes in the way God talks to her, and it’s truthfully somewhat predictable (and ultimately a novel whose plot might be forgetable) but generally speaking, this was an enjoyable novel and probably something I would have bought at the store if I were in the mood for a good read. I actually feel like I was able to take away a great deal from this book because of where I am in my adult life. I am a firm believer that I’m not married yet for a reason, and I don’t want to be the kind of person who rushes into a marriage simply to be married, but it doesn’t mean the pang isn’t there when I see my married friends. So for me, this was a great reminder that I need to stop searching (even if my “searching” isn’t as extreme or as desperate as Jessie’s) and allow God to write my love story.

Overall rating: 8/10

 

(I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review. I was not asked to provide a positive review, just an honest one.)

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