If you were going to read one of these books, absolutely read Furious Love (Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burtion’s love story, as pictured). If you were going to read two, I’d recommend Lost Girls.
I have been shamefully delinquent in writing my reviews. I actually finished my Cannonball in September, and I have been playing catch up on writing reviews. I just finished my 53rd book, and 53rd review, and I’m just going to link to all of my reviews below.
This book was delightful in many ways, and disappointing in others. My issue with this book is more an issue with the back cover summary, which induced me to pick it up. The back cover implied that this was going to be “Real World: London,” where 12 or so gods move into a London townhouse, “stop being polite, and start getting real.” I was expecting trashy reality television, with Greek gods.
This book is not that. I took Latin when I was younger, and most of our class was spent learning about the analogous Roman gods and learning very little about actual Latin. The stories are fascinating. This felt like a modern update of a classic story.
Aphrodite and Apollo are engaged in an epic battle of wills. Thousands of years of living among mortals has induced incredible boredom in most of the gods. Their powers are waning as people’s belief in the gods falls. The infighting between Aphrodite and Apollo eventually draws two innocent humans, Neil and Alice, into the world of the gods.
What I didn’t like was the fairly standard “innocent girl dragged into conflict, heroic man rescues her” plot line of Neil and Alice. It was boring in a book that had an otherwise interesting premise and set of characters.
If you love Nora Ephron, for her movies, or her advice, or her everything, you will love this book. Ephron was a wildly successful writer and director. And her personal life was fascinating as well – married to Bernstein, writing Heartburn about the dissolution of her marriage, and finding stability and an actual partner in her subsequent person.
The book is a series of short stories. They are odes to the things that Eprhon, 65 at the time she authored the book, loves, hates, and wonders about. Much of the book is very focused on New York, as Eprhon lived there most of her life, in an apartment she was deeply attached to, fostering her intense New Yorkness. New York seemed as much of a presence in her life as most of her friends, and lovers, and family, and I always find it fascinating when “place” overtakes “people” in terms of priority in someone’s live.
Another quick, easy cry fest. The Orphan Train tells the story of two women. Vivian, in her 90s, lost her parents in a fire when she was just a girl and traveled out west on the so-called “orphan train” where was she taken in by a series of families, and suffered a series of traumas, before finding a family that provided her with a stable, if not loving, environment. Molly Ayer, a de facto orphan living with resentful foster parents, helps Vivian clean out her attic as part of her community service.
The book is told in present day, exploring the parallels between Molly’s experience and Vivian’s own, as Molly uses technology to help Vivian reconnect with and understand her past. And Molly develops over the course of the story, maturing a little as she realizes she is not actually as alone as she feels. The book also uses flashbacks to tell Vivian’s story, when Vivian was young.
I loved the Vivian flashbacks.
I just graduated from law school, and I had a week off before studying for the bar. I wanted to fill that week with easy to read, fun, fantasy chick lit and my mom lent me her copy of Me Before You. She loved this book, her book club loved this book, and I enjoyed this book…up until the ending.
This book is the story of Louisa Clark, a young woman in her mid-twenties who just lost her job at the small cafe and bakery where she works. Lou is trapped in her small town life, she rarely leaves her hometown, she’s unwilling to explore her passions and she’s basically just…stuck, as many twenty-somethings are. The unemployment office finds her a job as a companion to a young quadriplegic man.
It’s hard to know how much of the plot to describe without veering into spoiler territory. Lou has a long term, exercise obsessed boyfriend. And her employer, the enigmatic Will, lived a life of adventure and action before an accident rendered him quadriplegic. There are two parallel stories here. One is Lou’s personal story, as she struggles to support her family during the recession and works through her personal traumas in her past in an attempt to find a life that is her own. And the other is Lou’s romantic story, as she struggles with her growing feelings towards her employer and her waning feelings towards her boyfriend.
What I liked best about this book is that it didn’t sacrifice Lou’s person struggles with her family and past to focus on her romantic life.
I immediately reserved this book at the library after I read about the cast for the upcoming movie edition. The cast is basically a who’s who of people Pajibans (and America) loves. I was lukewarm towards the book, but I can’t help but feel that a cast with great chemistry could make me love a movie adaptation. It’s a family dramedy, which is normally right up my alley. When the Foxman patriarch dies, his four adult children and an assortment of their friends and lovers gather to sit Shiva, although they were not even remotely religious growing up.
The middle son (Jason Bateman), going through a painful divorce with his soon to be ex-wife (Abigail Spencer), anchors the story, attempting to hold both himself and his family together while reconnecting with his high school flame (Rose Byrne). His younger brother (Adam Driver) is irresponsible, wasteful and free spirited the way youngest siblings often are, and he comes home with his much older, life coach girlfriend (Connie Britton!!) only to fuck things up for his family and his relationship.
One of the most compelling dramatic tensions in the story was the tension between the oldest brother (Corey Stoll) and the middle brother. A traumatic event in their youth dramatically altered the course of the oldest brother’s life, and neither brother has ever addressed the underlying jealousy and resentment that event caused. Watching them work through their past was satisfying.
The biggest drawback for me is that the only sister in the family (played by Tina Fey) gets the short shift.
Similar to Life After Life, The Post Birthday World also looks at alternate timelines of the protagonist’s life. Irina McGovern takes family friend Ramsey Acton to dinner for his birthday one evening while her husband is traveling. And her choice that night sets off two alternate timelines. In the first, she begins a torrid affair with alcoholic, reckless but passionate Ramsey. In the second, she opts out of pursuing an affair and stays with her stable, long term partner Lawrence who shares her interests, challenges her intellectually and shares her home.
Much of what I enjoyed about this book is what I found so beautiful in Life After Life. I think everyone imagines what their life would look like if they’d made a different decision, chosen a different career, married their first love, run off with the handsome man they met at a bar one night, never had children, etc. But when we fantasize about those things, we imagine a life infinitely better than our own. In our imaginations, when we make the other choice – the sun always shines, we never fight, we love our boss, our work is fulfilling and we never work weekends, our children with our hypothetical partner are well behaved and darling, etc. What daydreaming about the “what ifs” of life you never think about the hard times.
And there are hard times.
I’m going to be gushing a lot in some of my upcoming posts. I’ve been on a serious roll with reading books I love, probably because I did a ton of research on what to read so I could stop reading crap and start reading books I’m obsessed with, rather than lukewarm towards.
Anyway, Maria Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics goes on the gush list. Blue van Meer is the protagonist, who has spent her life traveling from city to city with her professor father, who was constantly guest lecturing at some rural university or another. And during her senior year, she finds herself at the St. Galloway school in North Carolina. And while she finally finds a place to belong, she finds herself entangled in the odd, complicated and slightly terrifying world of a teacher and the teacher’s favorite students.
This book expertly straddled two genres. There was a significant amount of plot and character development dedicated to Blue, and her friends, as they navigate the awkward world of high school under the tutelage of a slightly unhinged, but absolutely magnetic, teacher. And this book was also a traditional thriller, with Blue introducing the mystery at the beginning, and the psychological underpinnings of the mystery unraveled slowly over the course of the book.
This book reminded me a lot of The Secret History, but I think I prefer Special Topics. The end of this book throws a curve ball at you that I, for one, was not expecting.
God, I loved this book. I can’t believe I didn’t read this when it came out in 2001, when I was actually in the target demographic. But Jessica Darling is such a wonderful young adult character and I love her just as much as a 26 year old as I probably would have as a 14 year old.
Jessica’s best friend Hope moves away, stranding Jessica in her New Jersey high school with the rest of their group of friends, who Jessica strongly feels are significantly inferior to Hope. Jessica has her best guy friend, who has clear ulterior motives as he’s been in love with her since middle school. The remaining girls – one a little “slutty,” one pretty girl with impossible dreams and a boyfriend, and one follower – are just not Hope.
What I think this book captures about high school better than most is that the drama of high school isn’t the build up to a Major Event. How many young adult books have you read that centered around prom, or homecoming, or a major sporting event, or some Very Special Event?
I’m on a roll with reading fantastic novels after a brief detour into nonfiction and a brief detour into some really boring books. Life After Life has a fascinating premise. This is the story of Ursula Todd’s life, or, more accurately, her many lives. Each time Ursula dies, she is reincarnated back into her own body, and generally lives a bit longer each time. Her powerful sense of de ja vu helps her slowly re-correct the course of her life until she finally completes the act she was destined to do.
What’s intrigued me most about the novel was figuring out which life was best for Ursula. In some of her lives, the tragedies that befall her or the way she dies is so painful, and she seems so unfulfilled, that you’re anxiously turning the pages until she dies, hoping for some relief from the life that has unfolded. In some lives, her relationships with her family suffer until she’s barely connected to them. In some, her friendships suffer. In some, she finds love, and romance, while in others she ends up alone.
Whichever life you choose depends on what your values are, I suppose. But in the end – you have to wonder the best life was the one in which she fulfills her destiny, or if she was happier when she was fulfilled in other ways. And most importantly, all of her lives feel real – she makes the choices available to a young woman living through WWI and WWI.
My only caveat?