Friday, January 31, 2014

Eleanor & Park

I'd heard a lot of good things about Eleanor & Park, but I'll admit I was a little skeptical about it. The minute I saw the word "punk" on the cover, I thought it was going to be one of those "cooler-than-thou" books. You know, lots of name dropping of bands no one knows and talk about how cool someone dresses. It was my main complaint about The Time Traveler's Wife. While there was a *little* bit of that in Eleanor & Park, it didn't bother me.
I was also afraid this was going to be another one of those YA romances where the whole plot is, "OMG, I like him, does he like me?" That was my main complaint with Anna & the French Kiss. Nothing else happened. But Eleanor & Park didn't feel that way to me. I've been asking myself if I feel differently about Eleanor & Park than Anna & the French Kiss because the kids in Anna are rich and the kids in Eleanor & Park are not, but I think it goes much deeper than that. Eleanor & Park's romance is intense, and it feels like the real deal. It doesn't feel like a bunch of fussing over something that's going to last 15 minutes. I like how Rainbow Rowell alternates viewpoints between the two of them. It takes the, "OMG, I like him, does he like me?" part out of the equation because you already know. She takes you inside each of their heads and shows, very realistically, I think, how love happens very gradually. This isn't "OMG, she's so hawwwt!!11" They both have their doubts about where this will lead, but they can't help themselves.
I also really liked how Rowell takes some characters that look stereotypical and at first (Park's parents, Tina and Steve), and gives them depth. I was a little confused toward the end about one of those character's actions, but I loved it that what Eleanor & Park thought about her through the whole book ended up being not true. Rowell does a great job of showing how people's perceptions of what another person is thinking or feeling often turns out to be false.
Overall, I have very few complaints about Eleanor & Park. It wasn't perfect, but it was lovely...a lot like Eleanor & Park's love for one another. I now want to read everything else that Rainbow Rowell has written.

I also read One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler. While I did get some good stuff out of it, I was a little disappointed. It gave me some of the answers I was looking for, but in the end all it told me was what I already know: each family should do what's right for them, whether it's number of children or breastfeeding or having one parent stay at home or both parents working. No matter what size of family you decide to have, whether it's 0 kids or 10, someone is going to have a problem with it. Those people are dumb and should keep their mouths shut, but they never will. 
Sandler seems to want to make "her way" the only "right way," and I don't really agree with that. When you start passing judgment on other people's choices to justify your own, you've got a problem. She seems to cherry-pick to find the answers she's looking for, throwing out data when it's convenient and making a big deal out of it when it's convenient. 
I'm still undecided about whether I want a second child, and One and Only didn't do a lot to help me make that decision. I need to learn to stay away from these kinds of books, because they don't really do much for me.
Up next for me are Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement and The Fate of Mercy Alban.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Life After Life

"Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson was one of those books that had a lot of hype surrounding it and, in my opinion, did not live up to it. It took me two weeks to read it, partly because I read "Catch-22" during the same time frame, but mostly because I simply didn't want to pick it up and read it most of the time.
It started out with a lot of promise, I thought. The life of the main character, Ursula, is on permanent repeat. She dies in numerous ways throughout the book, and goes right back to where she started, being born on a snowy evening. She rarely makes the same mistake that results in her death twice, but sometimes it takes more work than others.
What I liked best about this book was that it showed  how one decision, even one that might seem insignificant at the time, can change the outcome of your whole life. When Ursula finally makes it to World War II, things change. And for me, that was where the book started to drag. Sure, she lives longer, but to me it became depressing and drawn out. I also found this section of the book to be confusing at times. I had a hard time figuring out how she'd gotten where she did, especially during one part that I don't want to talk about here because I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone.
What I didn't like about this book was that, for the most part, the other characters seemed to stay the same while Ursula changed. I didn't feel connected to any of them, really, and none of them seemed to grow as characters. There were also times when the actions of characters were mentioned, and it seemed like it would be a significant development, and then it wasn't. Why say that Ursula saw someone in a place that was unusual if nothing was going to come of it?
The ending was very open-ended, which bothered me. Was she repeating her life over and over so she could do things right, or was it just going to repeat on and on forever until it all became a jumbled mess in her mind and she wound up institutionalized somewhere?
"Life After Life" was a really interesting concept, but I didn't think it was executed as well as it could have been.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Talking Pictures

I bought "Talking Pictures" by Ransom Riggs this weekend on a whim after finding it on a list of "$2.99 and under" ebooks from Barnes & Noble. Riggs is most notably known for his book, "Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children." I immediately fell in love with the title and the concept — a story based on strange, old photographs — but the execution didn't live up to my hopes at all. I do still plan to read the next one, which came out this month.

"Talking Pictures" is a compilation of old photographs collected by Riggs and a few others. What makes these photographs especially interesting are the captions written on them. They range from hilarious to poignant. The chapter entitled "Janet Lee" is especially heartbreaking.

I could not tear myself away from this book. I couldn't wait to get to the next photograph — each of them was a window into the past, and the captions brought a sense of intimacy to them. Viewing it on my Nook HD worked well, because I could blow up the pictures and examine them more closely. Often this led me to see things I otherwise wouldn't have. I enjoyed inspecting the backgrounds in each of the pictures, and getting a close-up look at the faces. My only real complaint is that I wish it would have been longer, because it left me wanting more. I think it may even inspire me to start a collection of old photographs with interesting captions of my own. This is definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in old photography. I'm happy I bought it because it's something I can definitely see myself going back to once a year. I give it 4.5 stars.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Train Dreams and The Tragedy Paper

Over the weekend I read the novella Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. It's been on my "to-read" list for a long time, and I'm trying to go through and read some of the books that I've had on there for a year or more.

Train Dreams tells the story of a man named Grainier who loses his family under tragic circumstances. I'll be honest, I'm still not quite sure what to make of this book. I almost feel like I should go back and read it again. I had mixed feelings while reading it. At times, I found it to be a little dull. I found myself wondering, "what's this all about and why is it here?" There were also a couple of times when I felt like something was thrown in just for shock value. That said, toward the end it kind of blew me away. I can't say much more or I'll spoil it.

Next I read The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan. It starts off with a boy named Duncan who goes to find his new dorm room at Irving, a private school. The tradition is that the previous occupant of the room leaves a treasure for the new occupant. Duncan's room was occupied by a boy named Tim Macbeth who...well, something happened involving Tim the previous year, but through the whole book LaBan keeps you guessing as to what it was. The treasure Tim leaves for Duncan is a stack of CDs, talking about his time at Irving. The story goes back and forth between Duncan's experiences during his senior year, and Tim's. The Tragedy Paper is a good, fast-paced read. Some of it is pretty cliche — the popular high school boy and girl who are a couple (the boy is a jerk, of course), the awkward new kid who comes along to shake things up, and the popular, inspiring teacher. While it's not particularly original, it is well-written and I enjoyed it very much. I can definitely see this one being made into a movie.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Snow Child

The Snow Child has been on my "to-read" list for almost a year, and right now I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner. I absolutely loved this book.
I like books that are realistic with just a little touch of magic thrown in. The Snow Child fits that description exactly. Mabel and Jack are a childless couple who move to the Alaskan wilderness to start a new life. Things aren't going so well for them. Then, one night, they build a snow girl together. In the morning, she is gone, and a little girl named Faina comes into their lives. The author, Eowyn Ivey, does a fantastic job of keeping Faina's mystique going throughout the entire book. Is she real? Is she the snow child come to life? Or is she something in between? I loved pretty much all the characters in the book—Jack and Mabel; their neighbors, George and Esther; and George and Esther's son, Garrett. They're all flawed and very human, but also very likable. I especially loved Esther.
I can't really find a single fault with this book. It's a lovely, magical story, and it's written beautifully. I would love to read more books by this author. I'm also interested in learning more about the snow child fable, upon which this book is based.
Up next for me are Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, and The Tragedy Paper, by Elizabeth LaBan.