Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
By Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Griffin, Hardcover, 9781250012579, February 2013, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

You know when you were in school and drew hearts all over everything to express your love for a particular thing or person? Well, if I could actually bring myself to write in a book, there would be hearts all over this one.

The Rest of It:

Eleanor, an awkward, “big girl” with crazy red hair, lives at home with her numerous siblings, her mother and her abusive stepfather. She’s poor. Poor enough to learn how to make do with what she has, and often, what she has is very little. Her crazy outfits make her the butt of everyone’s jokes and the morning bus ride to school is made worse by the fact that no one wants to sit next to her.

However, none of this goes unnoticed by Park. Park observes Eleanor from afar, before offering up the seat next to him. Half-Korean and in a circle of his own, Park is not popular, but not unpopular either. He’s able to blend, mostly because he grew up with these kids. There is a degree of respect for him, so once Eleanor accepts the next to him, the atmosphere changes ever so slightly. Hesitant to talk at first, the two bond over comic books. When Park notices that she’s reading his comic books as they lay open in his lap, he begins to bring them just for her. What happens next is nothing short of magic. These two unlikely characters forge a friendship, which eventually becomes love. Through music and comic books, they come together and once Park gets close enough to know Eleanor’s true story, he does everything in his power to save her.

Sometimes, I think the success of a book comes down to how well an author captures a feeling. Reading this book was like living my high school years all over again and I mean that in a good way. Even with all of the teen angst, the high school years are the ones that stick with you. Am I right? Good, bad, ugly. It’s the stuff of memories and that is why I enjoyed this book so much. Rowell’s ability to strip the characters down to their most vulnerable state is what makes this book so readable and probably why the characters felt so real to me.

I loved Eleanor’s awkwardness but I think I loved Park’s pragmatic approach to life even more. And his parents? So awesome. Loving, supportive parents who aren’t perfect. Sure, there was a heavy dose of sap when it came to the romance itself, but that’s how it is when you are young. You can’t wait to see each other and you do nothing but obsess about it until you do. Rowell captures it all beautifully.

One bonus to reading this book is that it’s set in the 80’s and the musical references are like whipped cream added to a sundae. Delightful! I grew up in the 80’s so that entire decade is near and dear to my heart but this book has a little something for everyone. I highly recommend it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go Bernadette

Where’d You Go. Bernadette
By Maria Semple
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316204279, July 2012, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

Funny, sweet and a little sad but oh so rewarding to read.

The Rest of It:

Everyone has read this book, I know. Except, I never read books when everyone else is reading them so it’s no surprise that I am writing about it now when most of the world has already discovered this gem. But on the off-chance that there is someone who hasn’t read it, then… well, you must read it.

Bernadette Fox falls into the “eccentric” category. She’s married to a man who spends most of his hours at work, Microsoft to be exact and her home, far from traditional, is a sore point to many of the Seattle moms that live near her. She doesn’t participate in any of the school activities and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee is perfectly okay with that. But Bernadette is more than a little different. Once a famous architect, she has become somewhat of a recluse by choosing to hang out in the camper she’s set-up in her yard just for that purpose.

Deep down, she knows that she’s missing out on what life has to offer, but with her personal assistant, who is supposedly from India, she manages to live this life, restricted as it is. When she needs something, she just sends an email and it’s taken care of. What she can’t figure out, is how to get out of a family trip to Antarctica. At Bee’s request, they’ve planned a vacation of a lifetime but when things at home spiral out of control, Bernadette goes missing.

This is one of those crazy books that you can’t help but love. Bernadette is way, way out there but when she goes missing, you see the true effect she has on the people surrounding her. Bee, loves her mother unconditionally and finds herself frustrated with her father’s lack of urgency over the situation. As Bee attempts to find her, I began to really see who Bernadette was and how she lost her sense of self over the years.

At this point of the story, I was heartbroken over Bee’s loss. As a reader, you just don’t know what to think. I listened to some of the story on audio and it was heart wrenching! Both the book and the audio are filled with emotional moments, but also some very funny ones which is what keeps it light. But don’t let the playful cover fool you, there are some serious themes here. Bernadette’s sense of isolation, her inability to see herself as a person, depression and her marriage which is clearly in need of some help, all manage to make this a book of substance. This would make a fabulous book club pick as there is a lot to talk about.

I really enjoyed this book and I enjoyed the characters as well. Bee, will always have a special place in my heart, as will Bernadette. They are both so complex but at the same time, so likable. Every minute that I spent with this book was a minute well-spent.

Have you read it?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project
By Graeme Simsion
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781476729084, October 2013, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

I don’t read love stories too often but this one is a gem! Sheldon Cooper fans will be able to relate to this one.

The Rest of It:

Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, is trying to find a wife. Except, how does one do that when your entire life is surrounded by science and scientific evidence? You create a survey of course! Don’s survey is to rule out incompatible mates. His friends Gene and Claudia are about the only two people who understand him, and they assist him in finding the perfect mate. Not an easy task when your expectations are so high.

If you happen to be a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you’ll immediately fall in love with this book. Why? Because Don is just like Sheldon Cooper. His mannerisms and his lack of social skills make Don endearing and a major pain in the butt, but sort of charming at the same time.

While trying to find the perfect wife, he meets Rosie. She is a far cry from what he is looking for, but helping her find her real father is something he can do with his eyes closed. So, the two pair up to find her real dad.

What a sweet story! Don is one of those guys that is adorable and a pain in the ass at the same time. So much of what he does is totally reasonable if you pick it apart, but to the average person, he’s uptight, too rigid and bordering on OCD. But did I mention that he’s charming? I wanted to shrink him down and carry him around in my pocket. No lie.

Plus, Rosie is pretty cool too. She’s more complex than you think and the interactions between the two of them are GOLDEN. I mean, there really is some good stuff here. This is an honest, witty, funny and sometimes hysterical take on finding that perfect someone.

I read it on one sitting and was so sad to turn that last page. I heard that a sequel is in the works and it’s already been optioned for film. Many have been hearing about the book but not many have been picking it up. Please do! It’s such a gem that I may have to break down and buy my own copy.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Canada

Canada
Canada 
By Richard Ford
(Ecco, Paperback, 9780061692031, January 2013, 432pp.)

The Short of It:

The anatomy of a crime, as told by one of the characters most affected by it.

The Rest of It:

First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first. (First lines of Canada)

Those opening lines set the stage for Dell’s story. His parents, struggling to make a life for themselves in Great Falls, Montana, rob a bank after getting involved in an illegal business deal. Their hope, is to pay off their debt and begin again. What Bev Parsons does not know, is that his wife Neeva sees this criminal act as a way to escape a lifetime with the man she married. Dell and his sister Berner are left to a family friend who has plans to get them out of the country. But as twins, and only fifteen, they are not sure what to make of the things happening around them.

What a book. I’ve never read Richard Ford before but when my book club picked it for January I had to give it a try. It’s not a book a reader can love. The story is too bleak for that, but I did appreciate the languid writing. Some of the members in the group compared Ford to Richard Russo and I agree. His writing reminded me a lot of Russo.

Many of the details shared are “day in the life” type details but at the same time, Ford uses foreshadowing to string the reader along. It works. I read these 400+ pages in two sittings. Telling the story from Dell’s sheltered perspective is somewhat limiting at times, but his wide-eyed wonder at the things going on around him made him vulnerable which lent the story a fragile, precarious quality.

What I most enjoyed, is the discussion that took place afterward. It’s hard to imagine what drives people to do the things they do, but it was fun to discuss it. Dell’s parents were never normal, in the traditional sense of the word. They kept their kids sheltered, were not successful in any way and tried to remain under the radar. Living in that small town, they managed to avoid most of their neighbors and didn’t seem to know how to interact with the people around them, or each other. This should have helped them in the end, but it’s really what did them in.

Ford can tell a tale and his sense of place is strong here. I enjoyed his style of writing so much, that I will be sure to seek out his other books. Have you read any of his books?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage Books, Paperback, 9780099448471, 2006, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

In true Murakami fashion, all of the elements are here. A love triangle, a mysterious protagonist known only as K, a beautiful setting and buckets of ennui.

The Rest of It:

It’s no secret how much I love Murakami but this book seemed the most balanced to me. The characters are strange and deep, in the way they usually are but not overly so and the conflict presented, happens to be something any reader can relate to.

Sumire, is this deep, untouchable writer-type who has the talent to write, but can’t seem to effectively gather her thoughts into anything more than just a few words on a page. She’s frustrated and shares her angst with her male friend, known only as K. He sees her potential but at the same time is blinded by his passion for her. Sumire is not interested in K as a lover. Instead, she meets an older woman by the name of Miu, and falls in love with her. Miu shares a very special friendship with Sumire, but does not want to be her lover. This rejection, throws Sumire into a deep well of despair and when Sumire goes missing while vacationing with Miu in Greece, Miu calls K to help find her.

So. Much. Angst. Oh, how I love angst!

These characters are torn between love and passion. They love each other and have passion for one another but the feeling is not mutual. As hard as this is for K, his concern over Sumire outweighs his frustration over the situation. He drops everything to find Sumire and in the process, realizes that some alternate universe exists and that the world as he knows it, will never be the same.

The beauty of this book is the writing itself. It’s delicate. Like taking tiny, measured tastes of a delicious pastry. So many people ask me which Murakami to read first. I am always torn because it really depends on your mood at the time, your tolerance for ennui and angst, etc. But this one would be great for anyone wanting to give Murakami a try. His books can be sexually explicit, but this was tame in comparison and the tone, mild.

Out of all of his books, this is one of my faves. I read this with a couple of other readers for #readingsputnik and it was just what I needed to jolt me out of the reading rut I was in.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Interestings

The Interestings

The Interestings
By Meg Wolitzer
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594488399, April 2013, 480pp.)

The Short of It:

Good friends and a healthy dose of nostalgia. So many of life’s ills can be cured with that combination.

The Rest of It:

Goodness, what is there to say? I read this so long ago. Long before my blogging break and yet, it still remains in my heart in some small way. It’s about a group of kids who meet at an art’s camp over the summer. They name themselves “The Interestings” because they all have the hope of becoming something unique once they hit their adult years. Some have money and talent and others, not so much, but what they have in common is a sincere understanding of one another. Wolitzer follows them into adulthood and the end result is a fascinating look at relationships and how they weather the test of time.

I adored this book. Simply adored it. I listened to part of it on audio and it was fantastic but I also read some of it in print and it was wonderful as well. The story is told by Jules Jacobson as she meets and befriends this group of kids. She’s got the right amount of confidence and awkwardness. Just enough to make her likable and her ability to take in a situation and react accordingly is admirable. She’s level-headed, bright, but not perfect. In fact, none of these kids are perfect. Their outer shells sometimes make them appear that way, but inside, they are all vulnerable which is what makes this group of kids especially readable.

But don’t think that this is a young adult novel, because it’s not. They enter adulthood rather quickly and as with most things, their shine dulls a bit until they find steady ground. The aftermath of a rape, is what propels them quickly into adulthood and the way that they handle the event and the loyalty to one particular character is what eventually divides them. But their journey is somehow interesting even though much of it is somewhat mundane. College, career, marriage, children. The rut of adulthood is also the impetus to propel them forward.

Some readers have said that they found the book to go on a little too long. It’s chunky and goes along at a steady pace, but I didn’t find it to be long at all. In fact, I found myself not wanting it to end. I had grown close to these characters and through the course of reading the book, I felt as if I knew them and that they could easily be people I know now. There was a familiarity that was comforting. You know that movie The Big Chill? It was sort of like watching that movie. A circle of friends, made tighter by tragedy. The easy interactions, the “what if” questions, the effect that passing years has on a person or marriage. Everyone has that one friend that they think of no matter how many years go by, and so I think many readers can relate to what happens in this story.

Reading this book is like visiting with old friends and I loved it for that reason. I loved it for all the memories that it brought back to me from my own teen years and the fact that it was well written certainly didn’t hurt.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Night Film

Night Film

Night Film
By Marisha Pessl
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400067886, August 20, 2013. 624pp.)

The Short of It:

A completely absorbing literary thriller that’s both smart and alluring.

The Rest of It:

Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned building on a cold October night. Her death is ruled a suicide but investigative journalist Scott McGrath thinks otherwise. As the daughter of Stanislas Cordova, known for his horror films and his reclusive nature, Ashley’s mysterious death sparks the interest of many, including all of the fans who call themselves Cordovites. As Scott assembles a team to assist him in the investigation, his love of Cordova’s work and his obsession over the director himself, puts him front and center. Danger lurks everywhere and as they dig deeper into a life that has basically been in hiding for more than twenty years, the answers they find surprise them.

This novel will most likely be my favorite book of the year. I felt it within the first fifty pages and after 600+ pages, the feeling stuck This is the type of novel that makes reading an experience. I can’t deny  it, I totally ignored my family while reading this one. The kids and Hub were left to forage for food, laundry piled up and the Otter Pup tried to sit on my head to get my attention. It’s hard to say if everyone will have this same reaction. I’ve seen a few reviews and some were less enthused by it, but there was much to love.

I’ll point out just a few of the things that made this a five-star read for me:

  • Top-notch writing
  • Engaging, likable characters
  • The puzzle aspect of the story
  • It’s all dark and drizzly and the cult-horror thing worked for me
  • The inclusion of web pages, articles and the like to move the story along
  • The fact that the films within the story were all made-up yet seemed fully fleshed out
  • The back story of all the key players
  • Pessl’s ability to toss red herrings in over and over again and somehow not lose the reader along the way
  • Reading it felt absolutely forbidden which made it all the more appealing

In the midst of all this darkness, there is humor. McGrath’s self-deprecating nature made for some humorous moments and his love of the genre shines through, which makes his quest to find the truth even more plausible. it could have been edited down a bit but I didn’t mind since I ended up stretching it out for as long as I could anyway. In fact, I didn’t want it to end. As soon as I finished, I immediately had to talk about it with others who read it and that conversation even included possible casting choices for the movie, because I know it will be made into a film. Actually, I did see a listing for it on IMDb but I am not seeing it as of this writing.

That said, this entire review is based on how it made me feel while reading it. it sent shivers up my spine and there were times where I gasped out loud. It’s the type of book that will make you fall in love with reading all over again. I will say this, the inclusion of photos and news articles makes this book one that you want to read in print. Turning the page and seeing an obituary is quite startling. I don’t think you’d have the same reaction if someone just read it to you (audio) and I am not sure how those pages would translate in e-book form.

If you pick it up, let me know. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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