I’m not the biggest fan of the “chick” genre (mostly because I find the word quite demeaning), but every once in a while, I like to switch my brain off and enjoy a popular chick flick or chick lit book. On a bad day, there’s nothing quite like watching Mean Girls for the umpteenth time, amiright?
I picked up Jane Green’s To Have and To Hold at a bookstore, intrigued by the high ratings and the fact that it’s a NYT bestseller. It’s an easy, breezy read, and revolves around Alice, a trophy wife who turns a blind eye to the philandering of her charming, successful husband Joe. Long story short, they realize they’re incompatible and go their separate ways.
Green’s writing can be quite redundant at times; however, she’s a master at creating detailed, believable characters and mercilessly exposing their deepest secrets and insecurities. In the end, the reader is left with a feeling of closure and contentment, unable to fault even Joe for being a serial adulterer. A feel good read that everyone can relate to.
@elascalza gave me this book and really, I cannot thank her enough.
Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is one of those rare books that’s a total game changer; eloquent, precise, and merciless in its portrayals, it reveals human suffering, joy, and motivation in full force. The story follows the lives of the Berglund family, composed of Walter, a liberal environmentalist and all round nice guy, and his wife Patty, a former basketball star whose foibles and follies are wholly human. Their children, Jessica and Joey, are a study in contrasts, and the unfolding of their lives and personalities show the extraordinary drama and conflict that exists within every seemingly ordinary family.
What I loved most about Franzen is his crisp, direct prose. He has a way of painting a picture without superfluous words or images; the story he tells is beautiful because of its apparent simplicity, not in spite of it. It reminds me of Dickens’ novels; there is the same level of uncompromising honesty and purity in Freedom, and I felt a similar empathy with ALL of the characters in this book, even when I didn’t approve of their opinions or actions.
To be honest, this book is so rich, so nuanced, that I feel my review does not do it justice. I recommend you check out its NYT review here.
“Lord! When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night—there’s all heaven and earth in a book, in a real book I mean.”—Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels. Epigraph from The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall (via epigraphic)
“I just want what we all want: a comfortable couch, a nice beverage, a weekend of no distractions and a book that will stop time, lift me out of my quotidian existence and alter my thinking forever. Either that, or the latest photos of celebrities’ babies.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, in the New York Times Book Review (via vikingpenguinbooks)
Do you ever get the feeling, when you haven’t read one of your favorite books after a while, that you just miss the characters like you’d miss your closest friends? That’s why, in spite of the sheer number of books in the world that I have yet to read, I still re-read the ones closest to my heart.
A sequel to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Little Men is a novel rich in the author’s characteristic themes of innocence, love, integrity, and family values.
The book revolves around Plumfield, the progressive school started by Professor Bhaer and his wife, Jo (the second of the March sisters). As in Little Women, much of the storyline consists of the antics of the children, and the importance the Bhaers attach to inculcating uncompromising honesty and integrity in their wards. It is a slightly different take on the joys, trials, and tribulations of growing up.
According to Wikipedia and some other sources, Alcott was a feminist, so I found the sexism in this novel rather disconcerting. To be sure, it was written a long time ago, in a world that was very different from what it is today… but the same emphasis on gender roles in Little Women did not disturb me. I guess I found it difficult to believe that Jo, the staunch tomboy, would say things like, “Oh I’m going to teach the girls needlework, which is more important than addling their brains with Latin and Algebra like schools do nowadays…” I found it difficult to stomach this comment from an intellectual rebel like Jo, and it was rather disappointing to see that her only idea for girls’ games was cooking! Sigh. Also, Alcott says that her “feeble female pen can only allude” to the sports that boys in Plumfield participate in. Again, coming from a supposed “feminist” author, this was disappointing to me.
In my opinion, a rather unnecessary death abruptly occurs in the plot, but it could have been avoided because it culminates in a sermon and doesn’t contribute to the overall story. This book does not have the infectious charm of Little Women and the story does not flow as easily; my interest waned constantly thanks to the excess sentimentality and seemingly disjointed episodes. However, if you’ve enjoyed its precursor and like Alcott’s simple, unassuming prose, this is a definitely a recommended read!
Yet another one of those books that I discovered only because its Kindle edition was available for free on Amazon. Dina Kucera’s Everything I Never Wanted has relatively high ratings and good reviews, and since the dark world of addiction fascinates me, I decided it was worth a try.
Now, for the facts-Kucera’s autobiographical novel is a jarring, unapologetic look into a world that redefines the phrase “dysfunctional family.” Her out of control life has very few parallels with mine; she worked a menial job at a grocery store to support her unemployed husband (and his twin), invalid mother, and three daughters, all of whom are alcoholics, addicts, or both. The book delves, quite literally, into everything that no one would ever want for themselves or for those they love.
I will admit that Kucera’s raw and disjointed prose made it difficult for me to get through the first chapter or two. However, I’m the kind of person who finishes a book once I’ve started it, so I ploughed on. I’m glad I stuck it out despite the frequent cussing and the morbid deluge of tragic information I encountered in the first chapter. I was faintly incredulous when I read lines such as, “I have adult attention deficit disorder with bi-polar characteristics, coupled with obsessive compulsive disorder. Jen is bipolar with a panic disorder. April has post-traumatic stress disorder with some OCD on the side. Carly, my youngest daughter, is bipolar, OCD, ADD with a splash of PTSD on top.”
I also admit that Kucera’s dark humor takes a bit of getting used to. Notable examples include:
"We canceled Christmas because of the economy. I think we should buy a big white van and drive to Mexico once a day and drop off a bunch of white people. Sorry, but there are no jobs in our country," and "A twelve-dollar haircut could ruin your life and change your gender […] And if you’re a woman and you accidentally get a mullet, whatever you do, do not wear a fanny pack or play tennis during that time. You will attract a gal pal."
However, once you get used to the author’s brash, unconventional style, the book is really engrossing and refreshingly honest. I found her attitude inspiring, especially because she never tries to sermonize or moralize in any way. Her line, “Every story has a happy ending if you tell it long enough,” pretty much sums up her outlook and her learned ability to cherish the small blessings in life.
In conclusion, this is the kind of book that you will either hate or love. I loved it, despite the rather anticlimactic ending, where all the ends aren’t neatly tied up. But then, that’s life, isn’t it?
This was one of my favourite books when I was younger, and I decided (rather listlessly) to reread it recently when I found the ebook for free on Amazon. I was apprehensive that time might have dulled the charm this story held for me when I was eleven.
I was wrong. Oh so wrong.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, based loosely on the author’s own life, is the charming tale of a genteel family in Boston, set after the Civil War. Mr. and Mrs.March are idealistic, loving parents, devoted to their family and to one another; they’re as “unworldly as a pair of babies,” as Aunt March put it. The novel revolves around the four March sisters, constantly tussling between their parents’ high ideals and the temptations of youth; pretty Meg, who longs for wealth and fashion, good hearted and tomboyish Jo, who delights in literary endeavors, Beth, the angelic musician, and Amy, the spoiled little darling. Alcott’s simple, unassuming prose illustrates the beauty and complexity of seemingly simple everyday life, and her high emphasis on virtue and morality is really touching in today’s promiscuous, goal oriented world, where self interest and dishonesty are the norm rather than an aberration.
I literally had to stop to wipe away a tear every now and then, because rereading this tender book made me long for a time when sacrifice, family, chastity, and honor were prized above all else. Alcott’s highly readable novel is one I’d recommend to everybody, and is an eye opener to a simpler, innocent, and more beautiful world than the one we live in today. I will reread and review the sequels soon! (Jo’s Boys and Little Men)
Rating- 9/10 :)
P.S- The newer versions of this book include its sequel, Good Wives. I wasn’t aware of this, and recently bought the sequel; just putting that out there so you don’t repeat my mistake!
“With Jo, brain developed earlier than heart, and she preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when she tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen until called for, and the latter were less manageable.”—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (via quietontheinside)
I watched the movie A Beautiful Mind many years ago, but even my love for Russell Crowe cannot change the fact that this biography is far, far superior to its cinematic version. In my opinion, this is true for all books and their corresponding films, but in this case it is even more so.
The novel opens with the childhood of John Forbes Nash, an introverted, eccentric mathematician who achieved precocious fame within academic circles. At the height of his success, his promising career was derailed by the onset of schizophrenia. The story details his victorious struggle against this debilitating illness, culminating in a prestigious Nobel Prize win in 1994.
What I loved most about this biography is that Sylvia Nasar makes no effort to excuse or exculpate Nash; on the contrary, she brings his obnoxious, cocky nature to the fore, making it clear that he wasn’t a particularly sociable or agreeable person (especially before his illness humbled him). She fearlessly delves into the darker side of Nash’s personality, examining his homosexual tendencies, anti-Semitism, and unreliable aloofness as a family man. She also draws attention to Nash’s fear (shared by those around him) of destroying his genius with antipsychotics, which was his primary reason for rebelling against ingesting the drugs. The movie, for whatever reason, refrains from incorporating these interesting details.
This biographical novel is a mix of many literary elements and styles; nonfiction, history, drama, suspense, and romance. Compelling and fast paced, it offers a gripping insight into the competitive isolation of academia, and the healing power of patience and love. An incredible read, no matter what literary genre you prefer.
“She believed that by giving problems a name they tended to manifest themselves, and then it was impossible to ignore them; whereas if they remained in the limbo of unspoken words, they could disappear by themselves, with the passage of time.”—
This book was my first foray into the writings of Isabel Allende. I’d always heard a lot about her, and I’m now sorry that it took me this long to discover her books!
The House of the Spirits is arguably Allende’s most famous work, and with good reason. This novel (which has little to do with either a house or spirits, despite its title) is set in South America, where the ambitious miner Esteban Trueba rebuilds an abandoned ancestral ranch and rises to become a powerful politician. This story of his life is jointly written by him and his grand daughter, the headstrong Alba, who ventures into revolutionary ideals with disastrous results. Powerful, contrasting characters- from Trueba’s clairvoyant wife Clara to his rebellious daughter Blanca- populate the pages of this book, weaving a sprawling tapestry of events and relationships that is a delight to untangle. The setting of this family drama against the tumult of the political events of Chile (Allende’s uncle was the country’s socialist president in 1973) makes it that much more realistic and exciting.
My only complaint is that, owing probably to the demands of translation, Allende’s prose sometimes comes off as awkward. From her vivid descriptions, it is easy to see that she is an author of great prowess, and it made me wish I knew Spanish so I could read the original version. Sometimes, her rambling descriptions can slow the pace of the book; I took nearly ten days to finish reading 433 pages, which is rather slow for me. However, the upside is that these descriptions are undeniably lovely and immerse the reader in the circumstances and surroundings of the plot. I could barely extricate myself from the characters and their lives and I have a massive book hangover right now :)
All in all, a great read and one I’d recommend, especially if you’re interested in politics and/ or history.
If, like me, you’re fascinated by history and historical fiction, this is the book for you! Philippa Gregory constructs an intricate web of scandal, deceit, loyalty, and politics within the factual framework of a fascinating period in English history. The Other Boleyn Girl is an excellent portrayal of one of the tumultuous reign of King Henry VIII. Under his direction, the English Court changed course, breaking from the Roman Catholic Church in order to dissolve Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon, who could not provide a living heir to the throne.
The story opens with the pretty, guileless Mary Boleyn Carey, who catches the King’s eye and becomes his mistress. King Henry’s weakness for women was well known; he went over and beyond the “normal” range for promiscuity by having six wives, two of whom were publicly beheaded. The novel then details how the King switches his affections to Mary’s sister Anne Boleyn, a charming flirt who uses her beauty and wit as her only tools for her unprecedented rise to the queenship.
I have reread this book innumerable times; Gregory’s writing is impeccably fluid and makes for effortless reading. In fact, the only other books I’ve reread as much as this one are those from the Harry Potter series. The novel seamlessly combines the intrigues, drama, and sensibilities of the Tudor court, until the reader can empathize with all the characters and their dilemmas; Mary, cowed by familial obligations, her proud, ambitious sister Anne, who will stop at nothing, and their feckless, charming brother George, torn by his loyalties and his forbidden homosexuality. All in all, a book that will draw you in from the first page.