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.

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