Book Reviews: Old and new in 2015

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Book description: Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

My review: I know this is one of the English greats in literature, but, ugh, I just couldn’t with Wuthering Heights. Everyone was just insane and nobody behaved rationally. I suppose that’s part of the point (what’s “passion” with rationality?) but it was just so horrible. Everyone was horrible and behaved horribly to each other. They all deserved each other. I did not enjoy reading this book at all.

And what is with all the random deaths? I suppose that back in those days people died a lot more randomly, but it seemed almost like people just got fed up and decided to die. Is that possible? Catherine seems to die out of sheer spite. Maybe she did. Maybe it’s possible. It just seems really implausible. It must have been really depressing to be a doctor back then.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Book description: Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.
Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is not a simple missing person’s case. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

My review: Like any good marshmallow, I was ecstatic to hear that Rob Thomas would be continuing his story of Veronica Mars, beyond the Kickstarter-funded movie that came out last year, following Veronica nearly a decade after the TV show ended. The series seemed to not have finished appropriately, and anyone who loves Veronica was excited that we could continue on with her story. I still maintain that the first season of Veronica Mars is the best, the most fantastically structured season of TV ever.

Anyway, the book continues on as Veronica sets up in Neptune again. All of our favourite characters are there (except from Logan, which is sad, but good because he’s made good with his life and is now in the Pacific with the Navy – although I’m expecting some explicit LoVe scenes when he finally returns in future books). I unremittingly loved this book. The reasons why I give a book a five-star rating on GoodReads are whimsical at best. Sometimes it comes with a “book hangover,” when I’m all moody and don’t want to converse with anyone or start a new book because I am still living in that world. Other times, it’s because I put down the book with a big grin and say out loud “that was awesome.” This book falls into that category.

Veronica’s voice is so present, it is practically like watching the show. I read somewhere that Kristin Bell narrates the audio book, which is so perfect, I’m glad she did that. I just can’t wait for the next one to come out – this will be a series I continue to follow obsessively.

The Midwife of Venice, by Roberta Rich

Book description: A gripping historical page-turner, enthralling readers with its suspenseful action and vivid depiction of life in sixteenth-century Venice. Roberta Rich has created a wonderful heroine in Hannah Levi, a lioness who will fight for the survival of the man she loves, and the women and babies she is duty-bound to protect, carrying with her the best of humanity’s compassion and courage.

My review: I read this book while in Italy, which seemed appropriate. It was a good historical fiction, filled with lots of details that livened up the world of sixteenth-century Venice. It sheds light on the atrocious prejudice facing Jews in Italy during that time period – it really was horrific. It was good enough, but oddly forgettable – read it if you’re interested in the period.

Not Counting You, by Melinda Olliver

Book description: Not Counting You, as a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, deals with love, loss and jealousy in a witty rapport.

Alice McGinnis is a lawyer whose life is consumed by work and managing the difficult personalities in her life. She has come to terms with her lot in life, until she learns that Tony, the only boy she has ever loved and whom she rejected the night before their wedding ten years prior, has returned to town as a self-made celebrity.

Tony still harbors resentment over what he sees as Alice’s cowardice and easily influenced mind and convinces himself that hiring Alice’s law firm is simply a business decision. However, as Alice and Tony are inadvertently thrown together they both have to learn how to navigate their new relationship while keeping old feelings buried and managing their new romantic relationships.

My review: Not Counting You is a fantastic modern look at Persuasion, something like Sex and the City, but set in Calgary. It is full of flawed but likeable characters, and talks about maintaining friendships as we grow up and grow apart. Also how to not settle in our modern hookup culture, where everything, including relationships, seems to be consumer-driven.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the in-depth look at Calgary’s bar and nightclub life. For me, it was like going home. This totally made me thing about what I thought my life in Calgary would be, if things had been entirely different (does that make any sense?) If you are from/live in Calgary, you’ll love all the references to the places you probably enjoy a beverage at (or should probably get out and try). A great first novel from Olliver.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

Book description: At the age of 22, Eggers became both an orphan and a “single mother” when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labor, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters, and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother’s upbringing manically fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey’sHiroshima.)

My review: This was another book that I just couldn’t. I couldn’t even finish it. I felt therefore it wasn’t fair to rate it, but it would not have been a good rating. I know that Dave Eggers is supposed to be this huge thing in modern literature, but this book, his memoirs of an admittedly shitty time in his life, was not a good introduction.

I get that it’s supposed to be arch and ironic and we’re supposed to pat ourselves on the back for getting his amazing self-consciousness at writing this hilariously pretentious books, but for me, it was just pretentious. It was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t. It certainly was sad at some points, but not in a good way. As I said, I just couldn’t. If you liked this book, good for you. I didn’t.

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