Book Review: Girls from Corona del Mar

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The Girls from Corona del Mar

Rufi Thorpe

Knopf

256 pages

Lorrie Ann and Mia have been best friends since they were young girls. The Girls from Corona del Mar chronicles their friendship from the age of 15 up through their early 30s. Like all friends, their relationship ebbs and flows. They are extremely close as teenagers but as they graduate and begin to lead separate lives, they go through long periods of not talking.

I know my synopsis is vague, especially given how much this book actually covers. It really packs a punch. There is a lot of focus on reproductive health. Pregnancies that end in both abortion and childbirth hold a lot of substance in The Girls from Corona del Mar and Lorrie Ann and Mia both dissected their own decisions at great lengths. It was very raw and very real. I felt like I was reading about two real women and the situations they found themselves in resonated with me completely.

I loved how flawed both characters were. There were times in the book that I thought they were both so wrong, and you could see that self awareness fighting through, and yet I could understand completely every decision they both made. Even Lorrie Ann’s relationship with her son Zach, and how everything ultimately played out, made sense to me, even though I agreed with Mia that Lorrie Ann made some awful decisions.

One thing to mention: this book had the most awful animal scene I have ever read. It was gut wrenching to read and really haunted me. Just something to be mindful of.

I raced through The Girls from Corona del Mar, and the closer I got towards the end, the more I tried to slow down and savor every moment. I would highly recommend this book, and I plan on reading the author’s newest book ASAP.

 

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Book Review: Before the Fall

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Before the Fall

Noah Hawley

Grand Central Publishing

400 pages

August 23, 2015. A flight leaves Martha’s Vineyard for Teterboro Airport. On board is David Bateman, founder of A highly successful media company, along with his wife Maggie, and children Rachel and JJ. Also on board are Ben Kipling, an investor who has found himself in hot water over some business deals, as well as his wife Sarah. Also onboard is Scott Burroughs, an unknown artist who is re emerging after spending the last decade in a drunken stupor. Lastly, you have a three man flight crew and Gil Baruch, security for the Bateman family. The flight takes off shorty after 10 PM and disappears a short time later. Nothing is known about the flight until 8 hours later, when two lone survivors finally swim to shore.

Before the Fall was interesting because it was a mystery but it wasn’t necessarily the fast paced thrilled you would expect. The investigation continues for three weeks, with authorities searching for the wreckage to try and make sense of the catastrophe. Meanwhile, the two survivors aren’t able to offer much as to what happened. One was asleep at the time and one was knocked unconscious. There is no way to know if something on the airplane malfunctioned or if there was any type of pilot error without locating the actual plane. Meanwhile, you have David Bateman, whose line of work puts him in the spotlight, and not always in a positive way. Then you have Ben Kipling, who is facing a criminal indictment. There are so many possibilities as to what happened that my mind flew to all of them at one point or another.

The pacing of the book was interesting. At times I felt it wasn’t as effective as it could be. I would say 2/3 of the way through the book, I started to get a little bored. I think it got a little stagnant. They’d been searching and searching and searching and it began to feel a little redundant to me. What was interesting to me was how the author chose to introduce the characters. All of the eleven people on board were given at least a few pages to develop them as characters and go into their backgrounds and history. Hawley was very considerate about when and how it was done for each passenger, with quite a few of the characters not really being discussed until close to the end of the book. I thought that was genius. So although I did find myself slightly bored at one point, I thought the novel was very well crafted and overall, I was invested in the story.

Semi Spoiler** The ending was very abrupt and I am so thankful for that. As I was getting close to the end, I started thinking “Please don’t let the author tie this up with a neat little bow.” I imagined an epilogue where we are given an update on the two survivors, etc. and I really thought it would have been a huge error to do that. I know there are readers that get really fired up over abrupt endings but I am not one of them. I think this one was done well because we finally knew the answer as to why the plane crashed. There were still plenty of loose ends with the characters, but it only caused me to reflect on the book more.

I wouldn’t consider Before the Fall to be a thriller despite that it is a mystery. To me, it read much more like literary fiction with mystery elements interspersed. That may sound odd, and other readers may disagree. That is just how I personally took it. This book has had a lot of hype this year, deservedly so.

Book Review: Lust & Wonder

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Lust & Wonder

Augusten Burroughs

St. Martin’s Press

304 pages

Lust & Wonder is Burroughs’ newest memoir and it details his last three romantic relationships.

The first one seems like a throwaway compare to the other two because it was relatively short. Burroughs meets one of his favorite authors and is instantly enamored. It becomes obvious pretty quickly, especially to the reader, that these two guys aren’t a good fit, but Burroughs is so determined to make it work that he has a hard time admitting to himself that it is time to move on.

Burroughs’ next relationship is with Dennis and lasts and entire decade. Everything starts off well enough but then, once again, the reader becomes aware that this relationship is doomed. I almost didn’t want to believe it was as bad as Burroughs described it, because it just seemed so lonely and depressing. Nothing completely horrible happened, but it was obvious the pair didn’t bring anything good out of one another. The realization of how wrong they are for one another hits Burroughs out of nowhere and he immediately starts attempting to break up with Dennis. Meanwhile, Dennis admits he hasn’t been happy for the past eight years, yet still hopes to salvage the relationship. It was not to be though because . . .

The last part of the book deals with Burroughs’ relationship with his husband, Christopher. Christopher and Burroughs met ten years ago, right before Dennis came into the picture. Christopher is Burroughs’ agent and the two have a very close friendship, until one day when Burroughs realizes suddenly that he is madly in love with Christopher. I really have to hand it to Burroughs because he wastes no time. He immediately emails Christopher to profess his love. The book goes on to detail their relationship up until the present day.

Another interesting aspect of Lust & Wonder is how it chronicled Burroughs’ writing career. I have read almost all of his books, so it was fun to read about him actually writing them.

I think Augusten Burroughs may be my spirit animal. I just find his sardonic wit so damn funny. This was no different in Lust & Wonder, despite the heavy subject matter at times. Burroughs was also able to chronicle his relationships in a very genuine, honest way. It can’t be easy to share your most intimate thoughts and moments, and yet he did it in a way that was totally relatable to the reader. If you have been in at least one relationship, whether it be good or bad, you will be able to relate to this book.

 

Book Review: Nora Webster

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Nora Webster

Colm Toibin

Scribner

373 pages

Nora Webster is the story of a widow by the same name. It is the late 1960s in Wexford, Ireland, and Nora’s husband has just died, leaving her with four children to care for. It isn’t the dramatic tale that one would imagine, but rather the story of the next few years as Nora struggles to come to terms with Maurice’s death. Finding her way in the work force after 25 years away is one element of her new life, as well as discovering hobbies that interest her as an individual.

Nora Webster is a very layered novel. There is not a lot of dramatics, but rather it is Nora quietly trying to forge a new path. My favorite parts of the novel were mostly when she was working at Gibney’s. Nora had left Gibney’s 25 years earlier when she married Maurice, and she was offered a position once she was widowed. Her old nemesis, Francie Kavanaugh, is now the manager, and she is a bitter woman who still feels slighted by Nora’s attitude towards her decades ago. Nora also shares an office with Elizabeth Gibney, the socialite daughter of current Gibney scion, William Gibney. Elizabeth is very flighty and would rather gossip on the phone than do any work, yet she and Nora form an unlikely friendship.

The other parts of the novel didn’t interest me as much. Nora discovers that she has a passion for music and singing. She joins the Gramaphone Society and also begins taking voice lessons. This didn’t interest me in the slightest and I began to become bored with the novel towards the end because of it.

Nora’s relationship with her children is also a focus of the book. Her relationship with then honestly felt a little odd. Nora was very careful, to a fault, of not prying into the lives of her children. It seemed that she was scared of how they felt about the death of their father, and that Nora couldn’t bear the weight of their pain and loneliness along with her own, so she set herself adrift. It would have been very interesting to see what the family dynamics were prior to Maurice’s death, because Nora wouldn’t have been seen as particularly nurturing or warm in the novel.

I absolutely love Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn, so I was excited to read this book. I enjoyed it well enough, but I don’t think it resonated with me as much as it could with another reader. Because of how layered it is, I think it is the type of novel you could read multiple times, discovering new details and depths each time.

 

 

 

Review: Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End

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Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End

Jennifer Worth

Phoenix

336 pages

This is the third memoir from Jennifer Worth about being a midwife to the working poor of London’s East End in the 1950s. There is a popular PBS television series based off of the books. Jennifer is in her early 20s and, along with a handful of other girls, she is training to be a midwife in the Nonnatus House, which is run by an order of nuns. The memoirs in the series detail the poverty and heartbreak the midwives witness as the service the slums of London, but there are also great stories detailing the other young women working out of Nonnatus House, as well as the nuns that reside there.

I thought the first book of the series, The Midwife, was fantastic. I immediately read the second on and found it just ok. It paled in comparison to the first book so much that I waited three years to read book #3. Farewell to the East End is book #3 in this series. I have to say, once again I was left a little disappointed. It’s a good book with some really great stories. Chummy delivering the baby on the ship at the end is one of the gems of this book. However, there were a lot of chapters that seemed to be fillers. Almost like the third book was a contractual obligation so Worth was struggling to fill it with anything she could think of.

So while I liked Farewell to the East End, it wasn’t as good as the first book. There are some other books published by Jennifer Worth that I have considered that are in the same vein. Letters to the Midwives is a compilation of letters that Jennifer Worth received after publishing The Midwife that caught my interest. I think Worth has run out of stories from her time in the Nonnatus house, but stories sent to her by other midwives could be fun. Worth has also published a memoir about her time as a nurse and ward sister called In the Midst of Life. While I likely won’t ever get around to watching the PBS series, I may read her other books at some point.

 

Have you read any of Jennifer Worth’s books or seen Call the Midwife on PBS?

 

 

Review: Book of the Month Club

Logomark_Navy (1)Two months ago, I discovered Book of the Month Club. Book of the Month Club is a monthly book subscription that has apparently been around for almost a century. You can purchase a subscription in one month, three month, or six month increments.

On the first of the month, just sign on to the BOTM website to see what five selections have been chosen for that month. There are four regular judges and a guest judge, and each will choose a new release. There appears to always be at least one non fiction choice and one psychological thriller/mystery.

I was instantly drawn to BOTM for a few reasons. Number one, I love monthly subscriptions. I currently do Birchbox and Stitchfix but have also tried Sephora and Ipsy.  Secondly, I rarely ever buy books anymore. I am way too much of a spendthrift to ever splurge on a hardcover, unless I find a second hand one for a good price. I thought this was a great way to encourage me to build up my library again.

The biggest reason I love BOTM is because it gets me out of my comfort zone. You can choose to skip a month if you don’t like any of the selections, but I don’t see that ever being an issue for me. I like the idea of reading and discussing a book I may not have otherwise picked up.

BOTM has an online discussion feature where you can discuss your book. Admittedly, I haven’t utilized this feature yet. I have something even better: my family. I gifted my mom a three month subscription for Mother’s Day and convinced two of my sisters to sign up as well (sister #3 lives in London, England, so she has to miss out for now). The four of us will look over the selections at the beginning of the month and decide together which choice we want to read. It is so much fun!

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This month, we were torn between Before the Fall and Enchanted Islands (I have my eye on Modern Lovers too). We quickly decided to go with Before the Fall, and even though I haven’t started it yet, all the hype has me convinced we made the right choice.

Yet another cool thing about BOTM is that you can add on two additional books per month for $9.99 a piece.  You can choose from the other four selections that month or any of the books selected in previous months. They also have a page called Other Favorites with four or five newer releases that can be added on as well. The Other Favorites page changes monthly, so you have to act quickly on those.

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This month, I had a really difficult time with my add ons. There were so many choices that I wanted to read that it wasn’t a question of whether I would buy the two additional books, just which ones! I ended up choosing Enchanted Islands, by Allison Amend, and Miller’s Valley, by Anna Quindlen. The latter was already on my Goodreads to-read list and the former had such a beautiful cover, I just couldn’t resist (although the story sounds great too!).

If you are interested in joining Book of the Month Club, use the code SUMMER30 for 30% off.

Have you tried BOTM club? What did you think? Please weigh in on my three book selections too and let me know if I made the right choice!

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon

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Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes

Mariner Books

311 pages

Charlie Gordon is a man of lower intelligence living in New York in the late 50s. His IQ is so low that while he is able to live on his own and hold a job, he can barely read or write and basic human relationships are difficult for him.

Charlie strives to learn because he has been made to feel that if he gets smarter, everything will be great. He ends up being chosen as the human subject in an experimental surgery. The research is still in the early days, but the scientists involved have successfully performed the surgery on a mouse named Algernon, and are very pleased with the results thus far.

Flowers for Algernon is told through Charlie’s journal entries, so the reader is able to follow Charlie’s transformation from someone barely literate to someone that all of a sudden has more knowledge than the scientists involved in the study. Charlie has all the knowledge he could have wanted and more, but at what cost?

Thematically, Flowers for Algernon gives the reader a lot of food for thought. Charlie’s character changes very quickly as intelligence sky rockets, and it becomes clear that all of the book smarts in the world won’t speed up the emotional development he has been lacking his whole life. Watching Charlie struggle to understand the new world he is thrust into, especially the relationships he has to maneuver, was the most interesting and provocative part of the book for me.

When I started reading this book, I was a little worried about how difficult it was to read Charlie’s journal. His grasp on writing was very elementary and the spelling errors took a lot of concentration on my part. I thought there was no way in hell I could read a 300 page book styled in that way. Luckily, it improved pretty quickly. Ultimately, I think the technique of styling the book in a journal format had a great impact, and it made the ending resonate with me even more.