Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #31: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Here is what I originally had to say when I read it in 2011: I had heard a lot of people raving about Hunger Games and finally decided to see what all the fuss about and I am ECSTATIC that I did. One of my favorite novels is 1984 so I find anything with Big Brother themes to be intriguing. Although this is Young Adult, the content is deep and arresting. It reminds me of Harry Potter in the sense that you root for the good guys and can’t wait to see what’s next.

New Thoughts: Insofar as they relate to me, The Hunger Games Trilogy is the Indiana Jones Trilogy (because there is no four) of books. What I mean is that it doesn’t matter that I’ve seen Indiana Jones a gazillion times, if it’s on TV I can’t seem to tear myself away. I decided read The Hunger Games (book one) today and couldn’t put it down if I tried. And I think I could almost start at the beginning again right now.

It’s certainly not an entirely new concept, but the dystopian setting, roller coaster of emotions, and commanding heroine are just impossible for me to resist, and I really adore it.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #30 – Replay by Ken Grimwood

I’ve had this book for years, moved across the country and then sitting on my nightstand, collecting dust. It came highly recommended from members of a science fiction book club, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it.

It is a time traveling story, a la Groundhog Day but with a darker bend. Jeff Winston is in a dead-end job with a souring marriage and finds himself suffering chest pains and in his office, dying. A moment later, he is back in his college dorm. Reeling with confusion, he comes to terms with his situation and discovers that he is somehow reliving his life. Why is this happening? What does it mean? He wrestles with these questions.

This mystery is complex and rich and will leave you with more questions than answers. It’s an unsettling book, but I think you need to read something that shakes you every now and again.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 29: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’m a big Gaiman fan and had pretty high expectations of this book because of the post about the Pajiba book club. I am pleased to say it exceeded my expectations.

I don’t want to say much because I want everyone to go into it knowing little to have the best possible experience. It’s powerful, magical, and you should really just drop whatever you are doing and read it right this minute.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 28: Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien

It has been quite some time since I have read a short story, possibly not since college. I picked this collection up at a book sale because it seemed to have good reviews on Goodreads and I wanted to try something different.

If you are in the mood for something unrelentingly depressing, then this is what you are looming for. I think I maybe would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t tried to read it like a novel and had taken my time, but I just slogged through it, grimacing.

She’s certainly a good writer, but I found her usage of pronouns and narrators to be a bit misleading and frustrating. I have been buoyed to give other short story collections a go, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 27: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

My parents bought me a copy of this book on a trip to Savannah because I’m pretty sure they won’t let you out of the city without purchasing a copy. I had read it back in high school, but really couldn’t recall anything about it, so I stuck it on the shelf. I decided on taking another gander at it after I saw that they were reading it on my favorite podcast Literary Disco. (Rider Stong a la Shawn Hunter and two friends talk about books and give each other a hard time. It. Is. Bliss. I like to pretend that Shawn finally overcame his brooding wrong-side-of-the-tracks upbringing and made something of himself. But I digress.)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is considered in some circles to be a non-fiction novel. That may seem a little oxymoronic, but it reads as if it is fiction. Embarrassing confession: I honestly didn’t realize it was non-fiction until I looked at the back of the book after reading the whole dang thing! The way that the story is woven together, along with the riveting details and unbelievable characters, just seem too fantastic to be true. As a southerner I guess I should have known better but Berendt had me along for the ride.

John Berendt is a character in his own tale, a New Yorker who comes to the south for a respite in the late 70s, and is pulled in to this jewel of the south. Though at first an observer and an outsider, he is able to move through the different social circles with ease and relates the history of the city, and its current inhabitants, with colorful detail. Though he has admitted that some characters are amalgamations of a few real life folks, a brief googling will confirm that some of the most shocking and bizarre characters existed just as described. For example, Lady Chablis, a drag queen who claims Berendt as her driver, not only is real, but even played herself in the film adaptation. It is a case of life imitating art, imitating life. Or something.

If all this wasn’t enough, one of the main and most compelling characters is pulled into a murder trial, which has rippling effects for the entire city and its populace. Jim Williams is a nouveau rich antiques dealer, and is famous for throwing an annual Christmas party as sort of a modern day Gatsby. Berendt is obviously not an impartial witness, but he does his best to relate the facts as they unfold so that the reader really is left with having to draw their own conclusions.

I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, but it was fun and manages to revere the south without lampooning it, which I really appreciate. If you like small town gossip and want to know what the south can be like, I recommend this read.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 26: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger is an amusingly dark novel with an interesting conceit. The narrator, Balram Halwai, tells his story of murder, oppression, and triumph through a letter he is writing over the course of several days to the Chinese premiere. It is bizarre, twisted, and compelling, and I highly recommend it.

Adiga’s portrayal of India received mixed reviews from what I have seen. Some critics felt his explanation and details were terribly exaggerated where others felt that he gave a fair, thigh exaggerated, picture of reality. I don’t know much about India so I read it with a bit of skepticism, assuming it to be sort of historical fiction in that respect. The caste system in and of itself is so different from my reality that the treatment of people in t he novel was jarring and horrific.
I really enjoy a story that gets you to root for the bad guy, and Adiga does just that. Balram is an admitted murderer, cold, calculating, narcissistic, and probably a little psychotic. Even so, he gets you to root for them because of the odds he is against, and the system he is caught within. Even though his decisions have probably lead his family to a horrible end, you can see why he made his choices. That sort of uncomfortable championing coupled with an effective use of a non-linear timeline makes for a good read.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 25: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

I don’t begin to know how to write a review and I don’t want to say anything at all that could give away any tidbit so I’ll just say I read it, it was awesome, and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

I don’t usually ever read fantasy but this is without a doubt one of the best series’ I have ever read, so if you still haven’t read them, do yourself a favor and pick up Game of Thrones. You won’t be sorry.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 24: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

This book is the tale of one woman and her family as they commit to one year of local eating: it just so happens the “woman” is famed author Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors and this book came recommended from a friend with similar interests. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, though I feel like I should read more so I was happy to give this go. As someone who has a passion for cooking, healthy eating, and supporting local whenever I can, I was particularly interested in the subject matter

I only read a few other reviews, but was surprised with some of the feedback. Some readers found the book preachy and dishonest because Kingsolver does paint an idyllic portrait of the year, but I suppose I took it I with a grain of (locally sourced) salt. For me she is a storyteller first and foremost and I thought that even though this was non-fiction it had a similar tone to her writing, which I liked. Though she does miss opportunities to share dirt about any struggles her family had with their mission, I feel like its because she is more focused on discussing farming and how attitudes toward food, and where it comes from have been shifted with negative consequence.

I loved the inclusion of writing from her husband and daughter: it really gave the novel a family feel. I didn’t feel the preachy vibe but merely thought she wrote with the zeal of a believer and I am able to draw my own conclusions.

I definitely feel like I learned a lot and have some food for thought (hardy har) but don’t feel pressured to make the same commitment. Instead, I’ll mull it over and make some changes where I can and go about my days a little more informed.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #23: The Girl with A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

I’d heard really good things about this book. Much like my review is going to be, as it is late and I’m sleepy, I found the book to be forgettable. It was okay enough, but I just thought Chevalier wanted it to be really DUNH DUNH DUUUUUUUUUUNH, but I just found it to be really obvious and a little heavy handed. Maybe if I had read it at a different point in my life I’d feel differently, but it just wasn’t for me.

It did allow me to check another book off my goal of 50, and as I’m really far behind for that I’m grateful.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #22: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Geek Love is the most fantastic book I have ever read. In this instance, I don’t mean “the best” I mean “the most remote from reality.” Not going to lie: as a geek I totally judged this book buy its cover in that I found the title intriguing. The book came highly recommended from my favorite member of the Literary Disco Podcast team, Rider Strong, as he said it is one of his favorite books. And I mean, if Shawn Hunter recommends it, I sort of owe it to my fifteen year old self to give it a look.

I made it through, similar to the way you would have to continue on if you are stuck in traffic beyond a horrible wreck with no detour routes: impatiently, gritting my teeth, and through clinched eyes. In this book, the Binewski family owns and operates a traveling circus, but this doesn’t have the charm of your average Barnum and Bailey. The children have been genetically engineered by their father to become circus freaks, who are the main attractions. This book is twisted and compelling and often horrific as the family goes from a simple circus to a religious cult under the thumb, or fin rather, of their controlling and psychotic son. The book is non-linear as one of the children is retelling the sad history of the family as a retrospective, while trying to make amends for her sin as well as, the the sins of the whole family.

It is bizarre, sad, painful, and creepy. I’m sort of glad to have read it, because you really have no see it to believe but I won’t ever be revisiting it: once is enough.