Thursday, June 30, 2016

Losing Hope (Hopeless, #2)Losing Hope by Colleen Hoover

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I hated this book. I only completed reading it because I did not want to DNF anymore books this year. But I was disappointed to finally come across a Colleen Hoover book that fell into all the cliches and tropes I expected from this genre. Of course, I realize this was one of her earlier books, however, I felt it was still terrible. What was worse is that I spent the first half of June slogging through this.

I don't think I will be picking up any other Hoover books in the future because of this.

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The Year of Magical ThinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was not what I expected at all. From the title, I expected it to be about something positive and life-changing. It was about something life-changing alright, but not very positive at all.

I've come across Joan Didion in literature anthologies over the years. I can't remember precisely what short works I've read by her, just that there have been a few and they left a favorable impression. The reason I picked up this book right now was because I own the book--bought it last summer--and wanted to try and finish reading the books I own instead of going to the library to get more books.

This book was about grief and mourning and the gaping hole that gets blown into a person's life when a loved one dies. This book was about the effect the death of Didion's husband had on her as well as the struggles she faced after that while her daughter was in critical medical condition.

The writing was great. I did not have any complaints there. I zipped through a third of the book in the first sitting.

The structure of this book was very different from what I am used to. I don't exactly have a complaint about it, but it was odd for me. Didion kept circling around the events of the particular day her husband died. Then the story would alternate between her present day and flashbacks to her life with her husband, John. There were also these phrases that kept being repeated throughout the book to emphasize points she was making, but a few them started to confuse me after a while.

I was upset by this book turning out to be about such a dark topic, when that was not what I had expected at all. But once I got past that, I found this book to be a little uncomfortable to read. I felt as if Didion was writing about her husband's death too soon. I think she was writing about it only months after it happened. She was obviously still in immense pain about it. This felt too personal and I felt like I was intruding on something very private. In fact, this makes think of something Didion says in the book: that grief is not something the western world is very comfortable with. That public displays of grief are frowned upon and it is considered to be a private affair altogether. People are commended on hiding their anguish. I guess that shows how honest this memoir was. It was very raw and searching and reminded me of what I write like when I write journal entries about something difficult or emotional I experienced. Reading this felt like looking over Didion's shoulder while she was trying to work through the most difficult thing she had experienced so far.

I did enjoy the flashbacks about Didion's life with her husband very much. I would love to read a book about her marriage to John, because from this memoir, it seemed they had a very interesting dynamic and a very loving marriage. They were both writers and they both worked from home. There is a part of this memoir where Didion discusses how horrified one of her aunts was that she and John spent so much of their day together. I enjoy the idea of married people who share the same profession and can even work closely together on a daily basis. I'm not sure I would be cut out for that, but it's very interesting to observe, since it seems difficult to accomplish. Didion and her husband seem to have had a very special connection that I would have loved to read more about.

This quote resonated with me, even though I have not had the experience of losing a loved one, but I could imagine how this might be true. “I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response.”

I guess I just wasn't in the mood to read about a topic as heavy as grief and this diminished my appreciation of this book. I picked a bad time for reading it. I basically just plucked it out of my closet, thinking, hm, I should read this since I own it, and without reading the summary, just dove into it. Also, I have not lost a loved one except as a very young child, which I don't think counts because at that age, I was not even cognizant of the concept of death.

I think it is a little funny how I feel that I was not ready to read about death, because death itself never waits until we are ready for it. The quote that gets repeated quite a bit in this, illustrates that very well: "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

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Of Mice and MenOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

My favorite thing about this book was how delightfully short it was! Short, but packed with so much, which in my opinion is the mark of a great storyteller. I can't remember the last time I read anything under 200 pages, which is such a shame! Alright, new resolution: read shorter books from now on!

I never had to read this book for school or anything like that, so going into it, all I knew was that it was a book typically assigned as required reading. I didn't know anything about the plot or themes or any of that. I had heard of the author, obviously, but had never read anything by him. I picked this up because I had been thinking of the phrase, "The best laid plans of mice and men." I had the experience recently of things I carefully planned and hoped for not coming through and I knew this book was about something along those lines.

In brief, this story is about two migrant ranch workers, Lennie and George, and takes place during the Great Depression. George and Lennie console themselves with their dream of owning their own ranch someday as they start a job at a new ranch. They are tired of always drifting about the country, doing hard work for other people and not getting to set their own schedule, make their own profit, or have their own place to call home. This is summed up nicely in a quote by George: 'Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place." This story is about loneliness and the different ways people deal with it.

Right off the bat, the relationship between Lennie and George was so sweet and I really enjoyed their dynamic. Lennie is this great giant of a man who suffers from mental retardation. He often gets into embarrassing and dangerous scrapes and George is the one who bails him out. What I found very endearing was that George keeps saying to Lennie how he could live such a swell life if only he wasn't saddled with Lennie's problems all the time, but we see that he would not actually abandon Lennie, no matter how bitterly he complains about it when Lennie does things that upset or endanger them.

When they arrive at their new job, George and Lennie are treated with suspicion because they are a duo instead of loners like other migrant ranch workers. George says, “Ain’t many guys travel around together...I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” The friendship between the two of them is contrasted with the other characters in the book who are each lonely in different ways.

Curly's Wife is the only woman on the entire ranch and she is always hanging around the workers, trying to strike up a conversation with them despite their discomfort with this since her husband is a jealous and possessive man. Curly's Wife infuriated me, first off, because she doesn't even have a name other than Curly's Wife. Of course, this was to show how she is considered a possession by the despicable Curly. I hated her and felt sorry for her at the same time.

There's Candy, who is not only lonely because he has no one to care about him, but also worried about being discarded because of how old he is. One of the saddest scenes in the book involves his dog, a creature almost as ancient as Candy himself, who is the only family he has had for years.

The loneliest character in this story would have to be Crooks, a black worker on the ranch. This quote by him just broke my heart: "S'pose you didn't have nobody. S'pose you couldn't go into the bunk house and play rummy 'cause you was black. How'd you like that? S'pose you had to sit out here an' read books. Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick"

The conclusion to the story was tragic. I can't really go into without spoiling. In fact, because this story is so short, I made sure not to read any kinds of reviews at all before I experienced it. I'm glad I did that. And I'm glad I read this.

I enjoyed the way the characters complemented the theme of the story. I enjoyed the speculation over friendship and how it is so rare in the world. And of course, loneliness is a topic everyone can relate to.

In all, this was a 5-star read for me. I always love it when a widely acclaimed classic actually gets me in the feels. I worried I would not find this book accessible or interesting, but that was absolutely not the case. The themes are universal and relatable. The characters are interesting and very well-developed. And best of all was the brevity of this book. I know from experience how difficult it is to write something meaningful AND short.

So yeah, go read this!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

November 9November 9 by Colleen Hoover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Because I recently watched the film, One Day, I love the structure of this book--one day in the life of our characters each year. I felt like that format helped the story keep to a brisk pace. There simply was no room for repetitiveness or dragging in the story.

The reason I chose to read this book was that I had a few days off from school related stuff and wanted a light zippy romance read to cleanse my palatte. This worked splendidly for that purpose. But at the same time, I enjoyed this book so much more than I imagined I would. Since this is my second Coolleen Hoover book, I was excited to peruse this author further--and not so much to get out of reading slumps anymore.

What can I say without spoiling? Honestly, just read this book. It has everything. The characters are well developed and differentiated. Their struggles are relatable and engrossing. And the plot twist near the end just hit me out of nowhere. I never expected that. I remember when I was nearing 50 or 60 percent on my Kindle for this story, I wondered why there was so much left. I felt like the resolution was in sight to our characters' problems, but then that curveball!

I particularly loved the bookish flirting in this. Being a recent Booktuber, tbr piles and reviewing books and all that jazz, I loved all the bookish banter between Fallon and Ben.

Just read this. You'll thank yourself for it. It's fun, but not as light as you might think. I personally found Fallon's mother's advice about how girls should wait until they are 23 to get serious about romantic relationships and instead focus on accomplishing goals and dreams to be very insightful and realistic.

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Maybe Someday (Maybe, #1)Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was in a reading slump from being in the middle of too many current reads and thus, after watching a Booktube video about New Adult book recommendations, I decided to give this a go. I think I watched another video talking about how reading a light, breezy romance was just the thing to get one out of a reading slump, so I decided to go ahead with one. I specifically picked New Adult because, being a new adult myself, I knew I'd be kept interested in that aspect of the story even if the book ended up disappointing.

I was so delighted to find that it most certainly DID NOT disappoint. It truly took me by surprise how sweet and fresh this story was--though, I haven't read a whole lot of New Adult or much romance at all in the past few years.

Sure, there were a lot of cliches, but going into a romance novel, one is prepared for that. What I enjoyed about this book was the fact that the characters were all so wonderfully three dimensional and very differentiated from each other. The story was not repetitive at all--which, for me, is the fatal flaw of romance novels--and it was only the last third that felt a bit stretched out.

Deafness is not something I've ever read about in fiction, and especially didn't expect to encounter it in a romance novel. But Ridge's deafness was what made his character stand out and take on so much personality. I personally squeed at their having to text each other to communicate even while in the same room, because of Ridge being deaf. I'm something of a texting addict of late and I just enjoyed that little quirk of this story.

The other characters were very fun and each had little eccentricities that made them stand out. Warren cracked me up quite a bit. Maggie was the only one of the main characters I didn't really like all that much, but that could be for obvious reasons.

The music theme was also very lovely for me. Although, I felt the songs themselves weren't that awesome, I knew that wasn't the point.

The writing was quite decent in this. There were no atrocious romance novelish phrases and descriptions. It didn't wow, but definitely worked for the purpose of the story. Simple, light, fun.

In all, I don't regret reading this. As for whether it pulled me out of my reading slump--well, it was the first and only book I FINISHED reading in April, so I would say yes, it did.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh, thank God I finally finished this book! I put this on my tbr, back in October, when a favorite youtuber of mine, clothesencounters, described what it was about and how much she loved this. Then my sister read it and raved about it. Well, I finally got my own hands on it.

My first reaction to the book was shock at the overly simplistic writing style. And the cussing threw me as well. As the story progressed however, I got used to it and just realized that was Watney's character. The book is written as a log, Watney's journal entries from his incredible experience being the first man stranded on Mars. Thus, I guess it was meant to represent how he would actually write/talk. But right away, this diminished my interest in the book.

Then came my irritation at how repetitive things got. I mean, the situation of the story is pretty stellar: guy stuck on Mars. Needs to survive. Comes up with cool ways to do so. But I felt that some chapters started off reiterating what was mentioned in previous chapters.

What I loved about the story was how it was all about problem solving. Watney runs into one problem after another and comes up with creative solutions. Of course, my poor heart didn't like all the suspense! Watney goes through a lot and just can't seem to catch a break! But again the repetitiveness of this grated on my nerves after a while.

I've heard some people are afraid to dive into this book because it has lots of science. But honestly, all of it is pretty dumbed down so no problems grasping what is going on in the story. I liked all the mad scientist scenes. How he grew those potatoes? I wonder if that's really legit and if it is, that's so cool! I loved telling people about his crazy botany.

The reason I started this off with a sense of relief at having finished this book is because I really regretted committing to this book because it didn't turn out to be what I'd hoped at all. Everyone I know who's read it said they had moments where they laughed right out loud at how hilarious this book was. Uh, yeah, I didn't experience that. I chuckled at some pretty standard crude jokes and okay, maybe once I laughed at some crazy situation Watney got himself into. My relief is to the fact that I didn't DNF this, because I want this to be the year I finish whatever books I start (haha, I have several in progress books already that are in danger of being DNFed).

Overall, my experience of this book was that it was the equivalent of an action movie, packed with suspense at certain parts, had lots of redundant scenes, and was just basically a zero calorie ride. Of course, the idea is so cool. Hello, Mars and NASA and big science and stuff. But there was no character depth. There was this cardboard figure called Watney who had a lot of shit happen to him. I don't know what it is with me and reading so much plot-driven stuff this year! All I know is I'm staying away from any more 'popular' books. I also felt a lot of resentment to this book because not finishing it for so long was blocking me from reading other books I really wanted to get to. Yup, this one's out of my hair!

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Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Edge of Day (Time reading program special edition)The Edge of Day by Laurie Lee

My introduction to Laurie Lee was the essay Appetite which I came across a few years ago and which enthralled me utterly within the first paragraph and to this day it stands out in my memory from the countless times I read it just to savor the language. Two days ago, I asked myself the plain and simple question of why I hadn't reached out for more Laurie Lee when I so loved his writing from that tantalizing morsel of an essay I'd sampled, and I when I couldn't find a satisfying answer obtained this book.
It was a random pick for my next Lee, dictated by the fact that its the only thing by this author at my local public library. Luckily my interest was acute enough for me to take a chance on this, even though from briefly perusing the reviews on here I realized it might not be the best introduction to his writing.
I had enormous expectations going into this. For me, Lee is a wordsmith and I wanted to watch his performance of language in this book. I was disappointed because I wasn't as impacted by the writing of this as by the essay Appetite, but that is not at all to say that it wasn't well written. It was still a teeming exultation of words that catapulted me into the summer of Lee's childhood. I just wasn't as blown away as I'd hoped to be. There weren't any passages I clung to with breathless awe and reread with thumping heart. But my faith is so strong in Lee, I just told myself, well its a biography and of novel length, perhaps essay and other short forms are his forte, after all he is a poet. I probably still have a great deal in store for me by this author and mustn't write him off just yet.
However, in comparison to everything else I've been reading lately, this far outstrips them all. I haven't been this engaged in a book since I read Richard Sherman's A Kindred Spirit and E B White's Once More to the Lake. This book was all things I love: dreamy meditation of summer and sunshine, youth's follies and ecstasies, and the bare facts of the mundane through the lens of an innocent child's eyes. It was very sensory, which I expected from Lee and really did transport me to this long gone way of life.
I loved also how this book had no kind of plot. I've found myself reading a lot of plot-driven stuff lately and this was a wonderful relief to experience, all quiet vignettes and observations of slice of life stuff. I like rambly, meandering, nostalgic writing. Not everyone does. This was just up my alley.
My favorite chapter was the one called Mother. I thought the description of Lee's mom was both endearing and infuriating and I just loved her! Here is an excerpt:

"She was too honest, too natural for this frightened man; too remote from his tidy laws. She was, after all, a country girl; disordered, hysterical, loving. She was muddled and mischievous as a chimney-jackdaw, she made her nest of rags and jewels, was happy in the sunlight, squawked loudly at danger, pried and was insatiably curious, forgot when to eat or ate all day, and sang when sunsets were red.”

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