Two reviews

Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult

From the back cover:

To the outside world, they seemed to have it all.  Cassie Barrett, a renowned anthropologist, and Alex Rivers, one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, met on the set of a motion picture in Africa.  They shared childhood tales, toasted the future, and declared their love in a fairy-tale wedding.  But when they returned to California, something altered the picture of their perfect marriage.  A frightening pattern took shape – a cycle of hurt, denial, and promises, thinly veiled by glamour.  Torn between fear and something that resembled love, Cassie wrestled with questions she never dreamed she would face:  How could she leave?  Then again, how could she stay?

My thoughts:

This book was pretty ok.  I enjoyed the way Picoult started the novel; Cassie had amnesia for the first 100 pages from some sort of accident or event that we did not know anything about (and neither did she).  And slowly, as Cassie begins to remember the event that caused her to forget her entire past, she starts to remember.  And in the remembering, she tells us her story.  Picoult’s masterful story telling is at it again in this book; I really think she is an excellent weaver of stories and really illustrates her characters’ personalities so well that you understand them and sometimes even like the most flawed of characters.  But although I enjoyed the book and got through it very quickly, it wasn’t as good as some of her others.  There was not nearly as much suspense, not too many unanswered questions throughout, and it was definitely missing a twist, especially since I’m so used to major twists in Picoult’s books.  If you are a fan of hers, though, I would still recommend reading this one.

Rating:  85 out of 100.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

From amazon.com:

With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?

My thoughts:

Wow did I love this book.  Seriously, I had been wanting to read it for so long, but kept putting it off because for some strange reason, I assumed I wouldn’t like it.  But really, it is such an excellent story and I LOVED the character of Charlie.  None of the other characters were really fleshed out, but Charlie (obviously he was the narrator) was so wonderful to read.  This book was incredibly sad for me too, I found myself feeling very depressed about midway through the book and continuing throughout.  But still it is such an excellent story and I will be recommending this to everyone I know.

Rating: 95 out of 100.

And Flowers for Algernon is book 2 for my TBR challenge and book 1 for the What’s In a Name challenge.

Read Alessandra’s review here.

 

Booking Through Thursday

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

I’m going to have to go with The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  I do think a lot of people have heard of it, but I very rarely hear it mentioned in book circles so I’ll share my feelings on it.

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This is the story of an unlikely group of people (a couple of Jesuit priests, a scientist, a musician, a doctor, and an ex-prostitute) who discover that there is life on another planet, located light years away from Earth, and decide to actually go there to study that planet and its inhabitants.  It sounds very science fiction-y, and I suppose technically it is, but really it is an absolutely beautiful novel.  It is impossible not to fall in love with these characters, as they are so well-developed and even the “aliens” are believable.  Russell’s prose is really stunning, in my opinion, and the book just all comes together so perfectly throughout.  I truly love this story and it is one of my favorite books of all time (top 5 for sure).  Just a forewarning – if you read this, you’ll absolutely want to read the sequel too (although the sequel is not NEAR as good, in my opinion).

 

Review – Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

 

From the back cover -

The system was simple.  Everyone  understood it.  Books were for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden.  Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires.  And he enjoyed his job.  He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames… never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.  Then guy met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think.  And Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do…

 

My thoughts -

So I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as I had anticipated.  The only dystopian novel I have ever read before this is 1984 and since I really loved that, I just assumed I’d love this too.  But the two books are really nothing alike, and I just was not excited about this book one bit.  I sort of got into the story in the beginning, when I was figuring out exactly how things worked in this sad future world, and I did perk up a lot when Montag started fighting the system toward the end, but the whole middle just did not do it for me at all.  I don’t know, it’s probably just me because I’ve heard so many great things about this “classic” novel, but personally I was just not too into it.  I did finish the book, however, so that says something good about it as I am not afraid to put down a book that I simply dislike.  So because I finished the book and did get emotionally involved in some parts, I’ll give Fahrenheit 451 a rating of 65/100.

And in other good news, this is book 1 of my TBR challenge list, so only 11 to go on that challenge!

 

 

Review – Left To Tell

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Left To Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin

From book jacket:

Immaculee Ilibagiza grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by a family she cherished.  But in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide.  Her family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans.  Miraculously, Immaculee survived the slaughter.  For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s home while hundreds of machete-waving killers hunted for them.  It was during those endless hours of unspeakable terror that Immaculee discovered the power of prayer, eventually shedding her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God.  She emerged from the bathroom hideout having truly discovered the meaning of unconditional love – a love so strong that she was able to seek out and forgive her family’s killers. 

 

My thoughts:

My grandma loaned me this book on Saturday evening and I finished it last night… clearly, I couldn’t put it down.  Immaculee’s story is absolutely heartbreaking but ultimately one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read.  The things this girl has been through, words simply cannot describe (although Immaculee did a pretty good job describing them in her book, in full disgustingly bloody detail).  Reading this book made me feel very, very lucky to be alive and to know that this type of terror is not something that I’ll probably ever have to experience.  Left to Tell is very religion-focused because, like the summary says, that is how she got through those terrifying 3 months in a cramped bathroom, unable to move, speak, shower, or really even eat.  If you are turned off by the God centricity of this book, don’t be.  You can still feel just as inspired by this story if you don’t belive in her God, it’s truly a worthwile read no matter what your religious beliefs.  The book goes into a little detail about why the genocide in Rwanda occured; it’s pretty rudimentary but it will suffice if you are not informed of the causes already (of course, I encourage anyone to read up on the genocide who is not familiar with what happened anyway).  The main thing that struck me as so unbelievable (in a good way) was Immaculee’s incredible power to forgive.  She lamented many times throughout the book how she could not believe that powerful countries such as the United States, and organizations such as the UN, were not stepping in to stop the genocide until it had gone on for over three months and more than a million people had been killed; anyone in that situation would feel just as angry and resentful toward these large and powerful governments that did nothing to help Rwandans.  But as soon as the genocide was over, she went to work for the UN, and eventually moved to the United States with her American-born husband… if that’s not forgiveness, I don’t know what is.  The biggest thing that she forgave, however, was the killing of her family.  She said she relied on God to help her with this, and he put love and grace in her heart so that when she (many years down the road) came face to face with the man who killed her parents, she was able to tell him that she forgave him and move on with her life.  And move on she did – she is now a successful professional at the UN, she has created a foundation to help survivors of the genocide, and she has a wonderful husband, two kids, and a happy life.  This book will really touch your heart and inspire you; I encourage everyone to pick it up.

 

Rating of the book: 95 out of 100.

Another challenge

So I was browsing around on some other book blogs and I came accross this challenge which sounds fun and pretty simple, so I decided to go ahead and join.  The books that I will be reading for it are:

1.  A book with a name in its title:

Sarah by Marek Halter

2.  A book with a place in its title:

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan

3.  A book with an animal in its title:

Female Chauvinist Pigs – Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy

4.  A book with a color in its title:

Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell

5.  A book with a weather event in its title:

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

6.  A book with a plant in its title:

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes  (also being read for the 2008 TBR Challenge)

A Thousand Splendid Suns

    A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Afghan-American novelist Hosseini follows up his bestselling The Kite Runner with another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil. The story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban tyranny through the lives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age 15 into marrying the 40-year-old Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal as she fails to produce a child. Eighteen later, Rasheed takes another wife, 14-year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation. Against a backdrop of unending war, Mariam and Laila become allies in an asymmetrical battle with Rasheed, whose violent misogyny—”There was no cursing, no screaming, no pleading, no surprised yelps, only the systematic business of beating and being beaten”—is endorsed by custom and law. Hosseini gives a forceful but nuanced portrait of a patriarchal despotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status. His tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.

I think I may have found my new favorite author in Hosseini.  I truly did not think he could write something as good as The Kite Runner the second time around, but wow he truly did.  His style has not changed; the characters are deep and incredibly fleshed-out, and his prose is simple but perfect.  I fell in love with this book from page 1 and pretty much couldn’t stop until the end.  Miriam and Laila are both exceptional women, and as I was reading I could really feel their struggles and joys as if they were my own.  I surmised real anger for Rasheed, their husband, and also for Jalil, Miriam’s father.  Even through that anger, though, Hosseini managed to make both these despicable men seem human, and there were times when I felt for both of them as well.  The book also traced Afghanistan’s history up til 2003 and it made me feel severely sad for the women there.  I have to be honest; I’m not that good with international news and I really do not know what the current situation is in Afghanistan.  I remember hearing maybe a year ago that the Taliban were sort of coming back to power, and thinking of that now just breaks my heart.  I am inspired to learn more about that country, it’s people, and it’s government, because I feel incredible sadness knowing that women are treated this way and there is nothing that can be done to change it.  I realize that in many countries, this is the norm for women, but it’s so incredibly heartbreaking, especially after reading this book and seeing that way of life through two women’s eyes in a personal matter (although it is fiction, obviously Hosseini is writing about a true sequence of historical events in a real country).  I encourage everyone to pick up this book, it is a marvelous story and at this point, there is nothing I can say negative about it.  I just truly loved A Thousand Splendid Suns.

2008 TBR Challenge

So I’ve decided to do the 2008 TBR Challenge.  Basically the challenge is that you must read 12 books in 2008 (one for each month) that have been sitting on your bookshelf for at least 6 months or more.  The list that I have chosen, in no particular order, is:

1.  The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

2.  Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

3.  Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

4.  Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

5.  Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel

6.  In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

7.  1776, David McCullough

8.  Misfortune, Wesley Stace

9.  Jewel, Bret Lott

10.  Gap Creek, Robert Morgan

11.  Cane River, Lalita Tademy

12.  ‘Tis, Frank McCourt

wish me luck! :)

Fat is a Feminist Issue

coverFat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach

Summary – Fat is not about food.  Fat is about protection, mothering, sex, strength, assertion and love.  Fat is a response to the way you are seen by your husband, your mother, your boss, and yourself.  You can change that response by learning the difference between “mouth hunger” and “stomach hunger”, by seeing weight loss as a good thing rather than a punishment, and by realizing that food is not your enemy.  Author Orbach says that most women respond to her program by maintaining or even gaining weight at first, as they learn to accept and like themselves – that’s okay.  And that’s just the beginning of this astonishingly effective new approach to weight loss through satisfaction.

My thoughts -

I did not read this book because I am a compulsive eater, or because I think I am fat, or because I have any other issue with food.  I read this book because I am a feminst, and I think it is important for me to expose myself to any and all feminist literature I can find, even when on the surface I don’t think it’ll apply to me.  Except in this case, I found it sort of did apply to me, indirectly, simply because I am a woman trying to get by unscathed by our anti-woman culture.  Orbach’s thesis is that having a weight problem and/or a compulsive eating problem is a response to the culture and social structure in which women are placed.  And even though the book was first published in 1978, I sadly found myself agreeing with pretty much all of what she had to say, even now 30 years later.  Much of the support she used for her thesis is standard feminist thinking, taken for granted by women in today’s day and age, but surprisingly it does still apply.  Just because women today know they are basically second class citizens does not change the fact that it is still true, and that being second class citizens still affects every single decision we make in the world – including what we eat, how much we eat, how we eat it, and when we eat it.  Orbach also spent a chapter drawing parallels between compulsive overeating and anorexia nervosa – while many people would argue that these are two separate, completely opposite disorders that have nothing in common, Orbach argues that they are two sides of the same coin.  Both are a response to the culture that women live in, with one being a rejection of that culture and the other being an overexaggeration and obsession with that culture.  I’d really recomend reading this book if you are fat, a feminist, both, or neither.  It is smart and enlightening and another one of those feminist pieces that you hope will not be necessary in today’s world, but unfortunately it is, so it’s worth reading. 

Salem Falls

Salem
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Summary:  Tall, blond and handsome, Jack St. Bride was once a beloved teacher and soccer coach at a girl’s prep school — until a student’s crush sparked a powder keg of accusation and robbed him of his career and reputation. Now after a devastatingly public ordeal that left him with an eight-month jail sentence and no job, Jack resolves to pick up the pieces of his life; taking a job washing dishes at Addie Peabody’s diner, and slowly forming a relationship with her. But just when it seems like his life is back on track, Jack finds himself the object of fresh accusations of rape brought on by a coven of bewitching teenage girls from Salem Falls, and history repeats itself as Jack’s hidden past catches up with him. In a sleepy hamlet haunted by enduring love and wicked deceit. Picoult masterfully leads readers toward a truly shocking finale.

My thoughts  -  I am a huge fan of this author, almost every book of hers that I have read I have really enjoyed.  Salem Falls was not all that different in that way.  I enjoyed the characters, as cliche as they were (it’s hard for me to admit that since I love Picoult’s books so much but it’s true), I was deeply engrossed in the story from page 1, and as always I enjoyed the way the book was written.  Unfortunately I have read enough books in my life to realize that in literary terms, this book was not the greatest ever written.  But still, if you have ever read one of Picoult’s books, this one was very similar and therefore you would probably enjoy it just as much.  Some of her previous books have had better story lines than this one (such as My Sister’s Keeper and Plain Truth), but it was still a very captivating and exciting read.  My only real complaint was that oh my GOSH was the “classic Picoult twist” SO freaking obvious.  I was pretty annoyed when I knew how the book would end about 150 pages or so before it actually did.  I still think this one is worth reading, especially if you are a fan of her’s already. 

Children of God

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Summary:  Children of God is the sequel to Mary Doria Russell’s 1996 The Sparrow, which saw a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat end in disaster. The sole survivor of that mission, a priest named Emilio Sandoz, returned a beaten and broken man, having suffered rape and mutilation at the hands of enigmatic aliens. Now the Jesuits want to go back to Rakhat, and they want Sandoz aboard the new mission. But Sandoz has renounced his priesthood and even found a measure of happiness with his new wife and stepdaughter. Meanwhile, on Rakhat, contact with the humans has thrown the local culture into turmoil, precipitating a war between Rakhat’s two sentient races. As forces conspire to send Emilio back to Rakhat–and toward a possible reconciliation with God–the planet verges on genocidal destruction. Children of God is a more polished novel than The Sparrow, and the story is equally compelling.

My thoughts-

Well contrary to what the amazon.com review above says, I did not find this to be a more polished novel than her first, The Sparrow.  That book was absolutely amazing, one of my favorite books of all time.  Children of God was a pretty decent sequel, as sequels go, but I also did not find the story nearly as compelling as her first.  The secondary characters were not as well developed, either, in my opinion, and there were far too many sad things that occured.  I also was expecting a very climactic ending but was disappointed in that as well.  It sounds like I hated the book, when I really did enjoy it, but it’s hard for me to compare it to The Sparrow because that book was honestly so damn good.  It would have been nearly impossible for Russell to top that first one… so my criticisms are definitely harsh with that in mind.  I am still very glad I read it, as it did tie up some loose ends and also introduce some stellar characters.  Definitely a good book, just not excellent.