book review, fiction, reading recommendations

Review: Leaving Time

Just because you leave someone doesn’t mean you let them go.

Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult

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Click on the image above to purchase the book on Amazon.

This was my introduction to Jodi Picoult, who many acclaim, and I must say that it was far from a disappointment.

AUTHOR: Jodi Picoult

GENRE: Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 4/5 stars

SUMMARY: Jenna Metcalf is a thirteen-year-old girl whose every waking moment is consumed by missing and searching for her mother who has been missing for over a decade, Alice Metcalf. Her father, a patient in a psychiatric ward, proves unhelpful. The missing persons case for Alice Metcalf was never reported either. Jenna enlists the help of a washed-up psychic, Serenity, and the detective that was originally assigned to her mother’s case, Virgil, in the search for her mother. As these three form the pseudo-family that Jenna never really had, details about the case reveal themselves and raises more confusion. However, Jenna is not about to give up, not after ten years of missing her mom.

THOUGHTS: I adored this story- it has everything an avid reader could want: paranormal beings, a psychic who is faking it, an angsty, witty teenage girl, an alcoholic detective, a missing person, and elephants. I am the kind that loves to read nonfiction and especially about animal emotions and the depth to which they feel it- so I really enjoyed the elephants aspect of this story. There is a lot of research about elephants in this book, so if that is not the kind of thing that will pique your interest, then this book may not be for you.

I like the characterization overall in this novel- the main characters, Jenna and Alice, are beautifully written. They are both complicated, and Jenna’s teenage voice is clear and realistic and relatable. Alice is just as complex, and she is not romanticized at all by Picoult- she has some angry moments, some bossy moments, and some mean moments. But she is still a sympathetic character, and one that you root for- it just she comes closer to real women in real life- she’s dark, she’s complex, and she’s emotional, unapologetically. Additionally, Serenity and Vergil, though most of us would classify them as losers or outsiders, are not entirely lovable, but just relatable enough so that you can relate to the issues that they are facing and the questions they have to answer. Also, the relationships that they develop with Jenna are nicely arced and anything but linear, which I feel is important for parent-child like relationships.

The plot twist at the end was something that I bought and enjoyed, even though many of the book reviews that I read on Goodreads did not. The main criticism I drew from reading those reviews is that it is a far cry from what Jodi Picoult usually does, but this was my introduction to the author, so I am able to speak on the plot twist without being influenced by Picoult’s other works. I thought it was a well-timed twist, believable, and made the story that much more enriching and challenging to my own world view.

If you enjoy realistic fiction with plenty of drama, suspense, and some of the paranormal, then this is a book for you!

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book review, fiction

Review: Magic

The event remains by invitation only, which is respected by all, and over the years it has become one of the most cherished secret occasions held in Paris.

Magic, Danielle Steel

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Click on the image to purchase the book on Amazon. I originally picked up this book because I found its premise to be intriguing: a “White” Dinner, where all invitees are required to dress in all white, where the location is at a secret, random, Parisian monument, and where the night is supposed to be filled with magic.

AUTHOR: Danielle Steel

GENRE: Romance, Realistic fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 2/5 stars

SUMMARY: Every year, the White Dinner is held at one of the Parisian monuments. It is an elegant event, where only the richest and most prestigious people from all over the world are invited. The whole event is rather secretive, as the location of the dinner, which is always at a historic monument in Paris, remains a secret until the night of. Jean-Philippe makes sure to invite nine couples each year he attends, as he is always one of the invitees, and this particular year, there is trouble brewing for more than one of the couples invited, and there is potential for new couples to be formed as well. The year after the White Dinner brings challenges, romance, and testing of relationships but ultimately, the White Dinner proves to be a point of “magic” in all of the invitees lives.

THOUGHTS: I like to think of myself as a rather generous book reviewer, but I need to be honest, as I did not enjoy this novel. The characterization fell really flat for me, each woman counterpart of each novel was characterized as the “perfect” woman with a couple of insecurities. They are all stylish, beautiful, sexy, intelligent, and a good mother if they have kids. The only thing that can really distinguish them is their partner, their job, and the situation they are in; none of these things should be the defining characteristic of any character or anyone in general, in my opinion. The men were all also gentlemen, but appropriately seductive; the only man that was not good was one rascal playboy and it was just all so boring.

The lives that the characters lead are also not recognizable nor relatable to me; one character enjoys India because she is able to take a private jet to each exotic location, another goes shopping for her daughter’s wedding dress at Dior, and they all enjoy unbridled success in their careers and enjoy the perks of being the most elite people in society. I have nothing against the culture that was being displayed in the novel, but I did have an issue with how these conditions were treated as normal and expected in the novel; it only made all of the characters come off as entitled.

The thing that got most on my nerve is that there were so many redundancies when the issues that were facing each couple surfaced in the book. The same arguments for whether or not to take a job in Beijing, for whether a relationship with a large age difference will work, etc. came up again and again and were sometimes examined from different points of view but these revisiting of the issues felt less like progress in the conflict and more just like saying the same thing over and over.

Some good things about this novel is that it was extremely readable, the prose is smooth and sometimes very simple. There are certain kinds of readers that would enjoy this book, but I unfortunately was not one of them. If you like characters that live exquisite lives and romances that face some challenges but inevitably and perfectly come back and blossom, then this book is probably for you, but I don’t think I can recommend it.

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book review, fiction, reading recommendations

Review: The Girls

Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get.

– The Girls, Emma Cline

I had heard great things about this novel from friends and most people on Goodreads, so I picked up this audiobook and decided that I would give it a shot.
AUTHOR: Emma Cline

GENRE: Realistic fiction

RATING: 3.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: This novel is set in the late 1960s, in California. Evie is a lonely fourteen-year-old girl, who lost her best and only good friend because she was more interested in her friend’s brother than her friend. When she sees a group of girls in the park, she becomes intrigued and sets out on an effort to befriend “the girl with the black hair”, or as she is later known as, Suzanne. Evie’s friendship with Suzanne pulls her into the midst of Suzanne’s life, and Evie begins to live with Suzanne’s group, who all practically worship their caretaker Russell. In a story-arc that eerily mirrors the real life Manson Family from the 1960s, Evie grows up at “the ranch”, a place with loose morals, a lot of tension, and questionable motives.

THOUGHTS: Let me say right off the bat, that I really enjoyed Cline’s prose but it is definitely not for everyone. Her sentences are long, winding, and descriptive; her figurative language is enticing, complex, and at some instances in the book, startling. If you would rather a book just get straight to the point, then this book may not be for you.

I am not claiming that Cline was trying to convey a greater message with her work, but I disliked how the book was drearily pessimistic, especially about the role that females should and would play and how femininity can sometimes be crass and false. Maybe it is because I am more of an optimist than the main character is, or maybe it is because I am young and have a hard time relating to the narrator, which is a middle-aged Evie. Even though many of the statements made about girls or women in general were heartbreakingly true, like the quote I listed above, and even though I could relate to some of the female fears communicated by Evie and the girls at the ranch, I could not accept Evie’s conclusion that the way that girls are conditioned to want love and never receive it sets themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment. I believe there are ways in which women and females can unlearn those roles that were dictated to them, that they are able to find contentment and satisfaction and the love that they need to be whole. (Of course, I am also aware that Cline is a completely different person than Evie, and that their views may differ, but I sensed no irony that Cline was trying to convey anything other than what Evie had come to conclude in life).

Again, I loved the writing style and I believe that it really enhanced the story, especially since a lot of it is told in flashbacks. I read this book via audiobook and the dreamy voice of the narrator (Cady McClain) was brilliant for this story, and her voice acting was everything a reader could have wished for. I did not know much about the Manson Family, but reading this novel has piqued my interest. I always found the subject of cults to be somewhat grotesque but after reading this book, I had real sympathy for the girls who had nothing better to do than devote their lives and their bodies to a washed-up, middle-aged man. Their tragic stories prove how people can and will do anything to feel like they are doing something important, something different than everyone else, and something that can maybe make them feel whole again. The characterization in this story is perfectly in check.

I also enjoyed how there was a parallel between past Evie, and a fifteen-year-old girl that present Evie observed for a couple of days; this parallelism only goes to show how even with the change of time, the change of culture, etc., the main insecurities of girls stay stagnant. This is mostly because the expectations of girls and the role they play has not changed all that much through the decades.

If the male leader of the cult/ranch had been the focus of the book, I feel as though I might have lost interest. That is the story that everyone else chooses to focus on. However, Cline took the unorthodox approach and named the girls, or the followers, as the unsung heroes of her story (which, as a feminist, I am all about!). They were both victims and perpetrators, both innocent and guilty, and I enjoyed reading about that complexity and the writing style really captured it beautifully. If these sound like aspects you might enjoy in a book, then this novel is for you.

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book review, fiction, reading recommendations

Review: Me Before You

You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.

– Me Before You, Jojo Moyes


So I have to admit, I was reluctant to read this novel. Reluctant, I say, because I was sure that it would not live up to the hype and I had heard mixed reactions to the movie. But, I am pleased to say that the novel is NOT the movie and is actually much better, but who can say that they were surprised? And anyways, romance is not my genre but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this novel.

AUTHOR: Jojo Moyes

GENRE: Romance, Realistic Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 3.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Louisa, or Lou, is a small-town, twenty six year old, English girl with no big plans. She lives a comfortable life with her sister, her nephew, her parents, her grandfather, and her boyfriend. Her family’s financial situation is tight and depends on her wages, so she does not have the ability to move away nor can she pursue an education. Personal reasons and secrets also lead Lou to lead a life within a small radius, leaving her with no desire to see the world and no aspirations. Lou is a bubbly, awkward personality with a wardrobe louder than most. One fateful day, she loses her job at the cafe and instead is assigned to be the caretaker and companion Will Traynor, a quadriplegic, ex-CEO, rich man in his thirties. At first the pair does not get along, but as time proceeds, they learn to rely on each other and of course, fall for each other. However, Lou has to reconcile with a deep, dark secret of Will’s that could possibly threaten their intimacy as well as their relationship.

THOUGHTS: I think the issue with my primary reluctance with reading this novel is that it was marketed as a romance when it really is not that at all. This story is all Lou’s, the protagonist, and how a relationship she has affects the course of her life and her personal worldview. I think the main proof of this is the fact that there is a sequel to this book even though (SPOILER ALERT) the relationship comes to an end in the course of this first novel. Additionally, there was no romanticization of Will’s paralysis, and yet at the same time, a real understanding that this romance only could have occurred if Will was paralyzed, and would ever occur in some made-up, fantasy land where he fully had control of his body.

There is something to be said about the fact that I finished this book in the span of less than twenty four hours; the storyline is riveting and the dialogue is witty and refreshing. Moyes’ writing is accessible and easy to digest; however, I found it to be lacking in that it did not have a unique, identifiable style. There are bursts of brilliance, but overall, the diction was not too impressive, which is why I could not give it a higher rating.

That being said, there was no need for fancy figurative language most of the time; the storyline and exposition managed to carry itself quite well without it. Moyes’ style, while not a standout feature of the novel, suits the mood and purpose of the work well.

The management of sensitive topics in the book, such as assisted suicide, is handled with grace. I know that the way that Moyes treats these subjects may have provoked controversy, and I believe that it only makes the work that much better, because in my opinion, the purpose of the novel is not to paint moral issues in simple shades of black and white, nor is it to preach. It is simply a honest reflection of the complexities of life.

The characterization is sublime and I found both Lou and Will to be highly sympathetic characters, and Lou served as a reliable narrator. I loved the imagery associated with Lou’s personality and her wardrobe, I loved the complicated relationships she often found herself, and I loved how she managed to look at all of her character flaws and mostly take them in stride. Will was also very well-written; he was both appropriately dark and yet generous beyond belief at the same time yet very believable.

The background motifs also played nicely into the tapestry that is this novel; of course, there is the classic class struggles between two peoples who have affections for each other, the examination of what a healthy functioning relationship actually looks like, and family disfunction. They do not distract from the main plot and instead, at most times, enhance the novel.

If you are a fan of watching a beautifully arced character grow and if you are a fan of subtle complexities, this is the book for you.

 

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