Bright and Bon Vivant

"My life is a reading list." ~ A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving

 Please note, much like Helen Garp, I am a READER, NOT a writer.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

This book did not live up to the promise of its first 50 pages. The plot turned out to be formulaic and the narrative not nearly as vivid as it should be. Riggs was much better at describing the normal than he was at the peculiar, and that was a big problem in this book. And as a young adult novel, I found it uneven and I was unsure as to its age appropriateness. The narrative of the first 100 pages spoke very clearly to a teenager and up, but by the end I felt like I was reading a children's novel. Still, I feel bad giving it less than 3 stars, because the book had heart and I know I will read the follow-up next year, with hope that the story will become more complex and more imaginative.

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife - Diane Ackerman
Read from September 23 to October 01, 2013


There are certain books that make me feel so enriched and so enlightened from having read them. This is one of them. This is an inspiring story and Ackerman tells it perfectly. As a naturalist, she is able to keenly convey both the best and the worst of humanity, and juxtapose it with the habits and actions of the rest of the animal kingdom. I'm not sure I knew what real bravery was until I read this book and my admiration for the Zabinski family and the Warsaw uprising could not be any higher.
The False Friend - Myla Goldberg

I don't think this book deserves the low ratings it has been getting. True, it is not the brilliance of BEE SEASON, but it was a solid effort at a memory novel, harking back to the tween years of girl bullying. Myla Goldberg is sort of connoisseur of memory, constantly finding a way to describe those moments when your childhood smacks you in your adult face. She doesn't quite transcend the genre in the way that Margaret Atwood does in CAT'S EYE (which a book jacket blurb makes the huge mistake of putting this book in the class of) but in a way it kept my interest better than Atwood's achievement. I finished THE FALSE FRIEND in a day (granted I had a very long doctor's appointment). I liked this one.

Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn This book was kinda stooopid.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee Completely lived up to all of its hype. A perfect novel.
Astray - Emma Donoghue A quick read. This is a decent collection of short stories with a cohesive theme that ties them together well. All of the stories are based on real people or events, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. There were obvious homages to Dickens and Twain, and some seemed reminiscent to me of Betty Smith and Kate Chopin. Unfortunately though, I don't think Donoghue is quite up to the challenge of these writing styles. With the exception of perhaps the first story "Man & Boy" (a first person speech to an elephant from its handler) and "The Gift" (a series of letters to the Children's Aid Society from the parents of an orphan), the narration was just not distinctive enough. I suppose every piece of historical metafiction will pale in comparison to David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas", but still, I think more effort could have been made to make each story unique.
Drop City - T.C. Boyle An alternate title for this book could be "Hippies Are Stupid". This is my second T.C. Boyle read, and while it was superior to THE INNER CIRCLE, I'm still not quite getting the appeal. The one thing I can say for him is that he puts an exhaustive amount of effort into recreating his historical fiction. The man is no slouch in that department. Where he falls short in both books, though, is in his plot. He gets bogged down in the world he has created and the storyline suffers. He mires himself and his characters in misery that goes around in circles until finally he decides the circle must end, and we as the reader are left kind of confused. Did the stupid hippies learn anything? Did anyone? I know I didn't.
The Soldier's Wife - Margaret Leroy Vapid historical romance. The author is much more comfortable writing about flowers and food than she is about honest relationships. At least it was a quick read and it did not offend me the way that Sarah's Key did. It also peaked my interest in German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII. I have added The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to my reading list.
The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls While I am not usually a fan of such sparse journalistic prose, the matter-of-factness of Walls' writing is what makes this book so compelling. Her story is an amazing one, and while it made me feel awful and angry, never once did she dwell on any of the hardships in her life. This unapologetic but deeply compassionate memoir will stay with me for a very long time.
In the Woods  - Tana French The first person narration got on my nerves about half way through this mystery, but still this is an admirable debut. I definitely want to read the second book of the series, which is told by my favorite character of this book, Cassie Maddox.
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn What a miserable miserable book. All I can say for it is that Gillian Flynn is quite adept at writing the thoughts and deeds of depressed midwestern white trash. This book is nothing like GONE GIRL, which is great for Flynn because it shows her versatility, but severely cuts into the enjoyment level of us readers.
The President's Lady: A Novel About Rachel and Andrew Jackson - Irving Stone Disclaimer: I read this when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I remember really liking it. Not sure how I'd feel now. Damn, it was hard to get a divorce back then.
God of Carnage - Yasmina Reza This play is an actor's dream. Any one of these four roles would be a blast to play. SO MUCH CONFLICT. My only fault with it is the ending, which is so often the problem with contemporary plays. It's not just that nothing is resolved (things don't always have to be), but it does not FEEL like it ends. I feel like if I saw it performed, at the end I would expect the actors to all say "...and SCENE". Perhaps it plays better, I'm sure it does. I'd love to try it.
Reached - Ally Condie

What WAS that?

1 and 1/2 stars. Fortunately my expectations for this book were so low after reading Crossed, that it would have been near impossible for it to be worse than anticipated. It WAS better than Crossed, but worthy of 512 pages? No. Q: How can a writer create 512 pages about 1 event without clearly describing anything that happens? A: Have said event told by 3 different people who repeat themselves over and over again in the most vague and annoying fashion imaginable.

The Book Thief - Trudy White, Markus Zusak A future classic. Far and away the best YA novel I have read to date. At first I worried that I would not respond well to the narrator (who happens to be Death, btw) but he turned out to be the perfect omnipresent storyteller for this particular tale. There is so much ugly truth and yet there is so much true beauty in this novel. I loved it.
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay This book started out as a 5. Halfway through it became a solid 4 and then slowly but surely it degraded into a generous 3, and now, looking at it in retrospect, I cannot give it higher than a 2. I only liked this book because of Sarah's story, which was not even developed all that well. Unfortunately, I had to wade through the melodrama of 1st person narrator Julia Jarmond to get Sarah's story. I see there was a movie adapted from this book. It may actually not be half bad. A great story in a terrible book often is. And since 1/3 of this book is unnecessary fluff, the adapters would have great freedom to tell the best story possible. Perhaps they can give me more Sarah.

ETA: I just finished The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and now I must reconsider all things relative. Sarah's Key is an insult to humanity. 1 Star. To copy and paste what I wrote to a friend about it:

The present-day story of the American journalist and her narcissistic French husband drove me crazy. There was not nearly enough about Sarah and her life as a survivor. I didn't just hate the ending, I hated the entire second half of the book. Sarah's story just stops halfway through the book and we are left having to read about this annoying woman who has to find Sarah just to let her know that "someone cares" about the atrocities that she experienced. I feel like de Rosnay started something she could not finish, so she just gave it up in favor of chick lit. It's a shame, because the story of The Vel' d'Hiv roundup is one that should be told. This story was way too big for this writer's ability

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