Book reviews

I have been on a book binge lately. Even I can’t believe how much I’m reading. I haven’t had too much interest in anything else – cooking, or even writing. Reading is good because it requires so little effort. And me, elephant that I am becoming, am trying to conserve all of my energy for my little tyrant who is just speeding up as I slow down. So here’s what I’ve been enjoying (or not) these past few weeks:

Fallen, by Lauren Kate

Reading Challenge category: A book with bad reviews

Book description: 17-year-old Lucinda falls in love with a gorgeous, intelligent boy, Daniel, at her new school, the grim, foreboding Sword & Cross . . . only to find out that Daniel is a fallen angel, and that they have spent lifetimes finding and losing one another as good & evil forces plot to keep them apart. 

My review: This is a book with bad reviews (I went with Goodreads reviews, because there’s usually a lot of reviews and people have no vested interest in giving out good reviews unless it was actually a good book). Some of the reviews were pretty scathing. And I figured if I was going to read a bad book, I wanted it to be a bad YA book that would be short and either about faeries, vampires or angels. Check box number three, because this is about angels. And, yes, the reviews were right. It was not good. I’ve never actually read a book about angels that was good, despite it being an interesting subject matter (I lied. Many Waters, by Madeleine l’Engel, is excellent and a great book for kids). Anyway, it’s about your typical boring teenage girl who is reincarnated every 17 years, only to be destroyed by the powerful love she has for an immortal angel, who is unable to save her, every single time, throughout history. Ouch. Except every lifetime they don’t actually spend that much time together, like a few days, before she dies, so they never actually get to know each other, but whatever. Their souls know one another. In this lifetime, Lucinda is attending a reform school after the shadows that have followed her all her life killed a boy she was into, in suspicious circumstances. And because she was never baptized, she might be able to end the endless cycle of coming back only to be killed for love. Only it might mean that she dies for reals this time … It wasn’t really well explained. And there’s a love triangle with a demon as well. I almost put this into the “book with a love triangle” category, only it was no fun. I’ll keep this one with the bad reviews, and add my own.

Gold, by Chris Cleave

Reading Challenge category: Book with a colour in the name

Book description: Kate and Zoe met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling;a sport that demands intense focus, blinding exertion, and unwavering commitment. They are built to exploit the barest physical and psychological edge over equally skilled rivals, all of whom are fighting for the last one tenth of a second that separates triumph from despair.

Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose.

Kate is the more naturally gifted, but the demands of her life have a tendency to slow her down. Her eight-year-old daughter Sophie dreams of the Death Star and of battling alongside the Rebels as evil white blood cells ravage her personal galaxy; she is fighting a recurrence of the leukemia that nearly killed her three years ago. Sophie doesn’t want to stand in the way of her mum’s Olympic dreams, but each day the dark forces of the universe seem to be massing against her. Devoted and self-sacrificing Kate knows her daughter is fragile, but at the height of her last frenzied months of training, might she be blind to the most terrible prognosis?

Intense, aloof Zoe has always hovered on the periphery of real human companionship, and her compulsive need to win at any cost has more than once threatened her friendship with Kate; and her own sanity. Will she allow her obsession, and the advantage she has over a harried, anguished mother, to sever the bond they have shared for more than a decade?

My review: I put in the whole lengthy description of this book because it was holy crap amazing and I want you to get the full idea about it. I almost added this to the book that made you cry category because I easily spent a third of the time weeping. (I’m assuming other books will come along that will make me cry. It’s not hard – I’m pregnant. I weep at happy movies.) And I’ve read other work by Chris Cleave, who is incredibly talented, so I know he’s not afraid to go for the hard emotional punch, so I spent most of the time holding my breath, waiting for the most horrible thing. It’s about love, and sacrifice, and life. I’m not going to tell you anything else – you just need to go on out and grab this book, then read it as quickly as possible. With a tissue.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

Reading Challenge category: A book you can finish in a day

Book description: A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love. Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

My review: The category this ended up in surprised me, because I didn’t think I’d be able to read it in a day. The issue with ereaders is you often don’t really have an idea of how large a book is. While that should allow you to just get lost in the story, usually it has me obsessing over how much of a book I’ve read. Anyway, I did read this in a day. I was able to get lost in this story, because it was told so well and you come to really root for the characters, who are dealt just the shittiest hand ever. Basically, any woman in Afghanistan – the shittiest thing ever, what they have gone through over the past twenty years-plus. God, it’s awful. And we tend to forget about what’s going on over there, because it’s not in the news everyday, but I expect that for a woman over there, every day is not great. Hopefully better than what it was. There was one part when, while under the Taliban regime, one of the women has to give birth to her baby and nearly dies, then has to have a caesarian without any anesthetic. It’s barbaric. And I’m pretty sure much of what is described in the book is very much some woman’s real life. So depressing, and sad, and also hopeful. This is really a good book. Hosseini is kinda proven in taking on these huge issues and giving them a human face.

The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

Reading Challenge category: A book set in the future

Book description: What can I say to Bangley? He has saved my bacon more times. Saving my bacon is his job. I have the plane, I am the eyes, he has the guns, he is the muscle. He knows I know he knows: he can’t fly, I don’t have the stomach for killing. Any other way probably just be one of us.

My review: The Dog Stars is a post-apocalyptic survival tale, so you know that for one it’s going to be pretty depressing. Well, usually, these are, and this one was. It was very much to me like The Road. And I think it was well done. It’s a character novel that brings up all the big questions – the meaning of life, the why of continuing on when the world hasn’t, do we give up our humanity for our survival, and if so, what does that make us? What is humanity anyway? Or family? Or love? Maybe depressing is the wrong word. I think introspective is perhaps a better word for it. I’d put this on a reading list for “when you’re feeling introspective.”

Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell

Reading Challenge category: Book with a one-word title

\Book description: The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline — think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades — and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

My review: If  you’re going to have a one-word title, it should be a good one. Swamplandia! is an awesome one – I love the use of punctuation in a title. It should have bothered me, initially it did, but now I like it. This book was weird. For the longest time I was questioning whether there was magical realism or not. And then, as shit got deeper, I was praying for it because I was so worried about the mess little Ava was making with her life and the terrible choices she was making, as a 12 year old left alone in the swamp, surrounded by predators. Every time she’d make any choice, I’d be biting my knuckle, silently telling her to turn around and stop whatever it was she was doing. Yikes – some people have ridiculously hard lives. This definitely showed one of them. But it was still weird.

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