Book reviews

I forgot about sleep deprivation. About why it was and is used as a (very effective) form of torture. I’m basically at the point of bursting into tears, screaming: I’ll tell you anything! Just let me sleep!

Somehow, I’m trying to do a little bit of reading. Most of these books were read before E came along, or in the hospital when everything is weird and you exist in this kind of continuous twilight and the only thing to do is read (or fall asleep while nursing then have the midwives yell at you, so reading is kind of the preferred activity.) Since getting home, the reading has dried up. I’m happy I had such a head start on my reading challenge list, otherwise it would never happen. Here’s what I have been reading:

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl

Book description: Marisha Pessl’s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center ofSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge, but she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some–a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel–with visual aids drawn by the author–that has won over readers of all ages.

Reading Challenge category: Book by an author under 30

My review: Okay, it feels like a really long time since I read this book, but I did really enjoy it. I like the intricate plot, and I like how Pessl writes – this is a fantastic first novel. She is very talented. Sometimes she is also very wordy, and the book went on a little long, but for the most part I enjoyed how much she plays with the English language.

It is a dark book, although not as dark as her next novel Night Film, which I read last summer but not after dark. I do remember feeling a pervading sense of anxiety for the characters as things went on, as well as a growing sense of anger and injustice for Blue as she is betrayed time and again. I never see the twist coming, and it was the same with this book.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

Book description: Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

Reading Challenge category: Book that made you cry

My review: Here’s another book who’s twist I didn’t see coming, even though it is revealed early on in the book. And really really sad. I’ll chalk it up to pregnancy hormones, but this one did have me getting a little teary-eyed. The major twist is presented very soon into the book, and I once again didn’t see it coming. It’s a sentimental book about what makes a family and what you do when you realize how betrayed you can be by those you love/how much you can betray them. Also, about animal abuse.

Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle, by Rosalind Miles

Book description: In the golden time of Arthur and Guenevere, the Island of the West shines like an emerald in the sea—one of the last strongholds of Goddess-worship and Mother-right. Isolde is the only daughter and heiress of Ireland’s great ruling queen, a lady as passionate in battle as she is in love. La Belle Isolde, like her mother, is famed for her beauty, but she is a healer instead of a warrior, “of all surgeons, the best among the isles.” A natural peacemaker, Isolde is struggling to save Ireland from a war waged by her dangerously reckless mother. 

Reading Challenge category: a classic romance

My review: Before there was Edward-Bella-Jacob, before Dawson-Joey-Pacey, even before Brenda-Dylan-Kelly, there was Tristan-Isolde-Mark. Yes, the tale of Tristan and Isolde, the original love triangle. I thought this fluffy romance novel about the classic pair would work for my classic romance category.

Unfortunately, the book did not live up to how great I remember the story. I actually had a children’s book about Tristan and Isolde, which is kind of fucked up because there is some ADULT CONTENT in their story, including affairs and, you know, death by torture. But this book was a little bit lame and didn’t even meet my standards when it comes to romance (smut-wise – I mean, give me SOMETHING). The characters were kind of whiny and annoyingly ready to be martyrs, which is typical in romances, but at least have some sex as well. Anyhoo, I can’t believe this is the beginning of a series. In my opinion, it probably should have wrapped up right there. And now I kind of want to go watch me some Dawson’s Creek.

The Witches of Eastwick, by John Updike

Book description: Sixteenth/seventeenth century witchcraft narrative that has been transported – via magic?- to the late 1960s and the era of social change.

Reading Challenge category: A book that was made into a film

My review: I always really liked the movie Witches of Eastwick. Jack Nicholson as the devil, taking on some badass witches who band together to take him down? Okay. I was also sad when they cancelled the TV show, with Paul Gross, because come on, it is Paul Gross. I’m also really into any TV show about witches, no matter how bad (see: Charmed).

However. The original inspiration, by John Updike, is pretty much the most sexist thing I’ve ever read. Women are witches, who basically use their power to bring down other women and fight over men, who are disgusting and also secretly gay. And the second women get drunk they all have sex with each other, as in some bad porn fantasy. And they are terrible mothers, all of them. And the only thing that makes them happy or satisfied is men. I suppose any book that’s going to discuss viewing women as witches should address misogyny, but I’m not sure Updike was so much bringing up this viewpoint as embracing it. So. Did. Not. Like.

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

Book description: A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Reading Challenge category: A book that scares you

My review: I find Lockhart’s YA books are hit or miss – I usually either love them (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks) or hate them (The Boyfriend List).

We Were Liars totally had potential. But I had much more conflicted thoughts on this one than usual. It was interesting, sure, and the lead up to the shocking twist was intense, to the point it was nearly a horror.

In fact, I think in reality this was a horror book. I found the ending so dramatically terrible that it upset me. Like, I had to put the book down and out of my sight. So I appreciate Lockhart writing something so amazing that had such an effect on me. But it was also just so awful, I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed it. I do recommend it, though. I’m curious as to what other people think about this one.

He’s Gone, by Deb Caletti

Book description: The Sunday morning starts like any other, aside from the slight hangover. Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat, a headache building behind her eyes from the wine she drank at a party the night before. But on this particular Sunday morning, she’s surprised to see that her husband, Ian, is not home. As the hours pass, Dani fills her day with small things. But still, Ian does not return. Irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic. And then, like a relentless blackness, the terrible realization hits Dani: He’s gone.

As the police work methodically through all the logical explanations—he’s hurt, he’s run off, he’s been killed—Dani searches frantically for a clue as to whether Ian is in fact dead or alive. And, slowly, she unpacks their relationship, holding each moment up to the light: from its intense, adulterous beginning, to the grandeur of their new love, to the difficulties of forever. She examines all the sins she can—and cannot—remember. As the days pass, Dani will plumb the depths of her conscience, turning over and revealing the darkest of her secrets in order to discover the hard truth—about herself, her husband, and their lives together.

Reading Challenge category: A book your Mom loves

My review: My Mom brought this book to Geneva for me to read. She thought it would be a great one to read while recovering from childbirth, when you’re still really unfocused and kooky from hormones and sleep deprivation. And she was right. He’s Gone is a fairly easy read, but a suspense that grips you and keeps you engaged (which is about the only way I could get through any book at this stage. I really liked this one. It had the same thriller aspect as We Were Liars, but was slightly less awful. It does make me never want to have an affair, which is portrayed as essentially the least sexy thing ever in the world. We’ll count that as a plus.


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