I’m Back!/ Shiny New Review!

Sorry guys, I know I suck for neglecting this blog for three weeks. I’m not going to make any excuses because I should be able to carve out some time to write every week, regardless of what’s going on.  In case you’re wondering how things went with the interview…I’m not really sure. I’m still waiting to find out what their decision is, but I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

Anyway, let’s talk about books! In particular, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Shadow of the Wind

This book was epic. There is so much happening in this story that it would be impossible for me to summarize everything I love about it. I think this is one of those books that I could read again and again and pick up on something that I missed the first time.

Plot: The story begins in post Spanish Civil War Barcelona, 1945. One day, 10-year-old Daniel Sempere wakes up screaming because he can’t remember his mother’s face. Daniel’s father, a rare book shop owner, decides to cheer Daniel up by bringing him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel’s father tells him he must choose one book to adopt and keep alive for life. Daniel is instantly drawn to a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. He loves the book so much, he tries to find other books by Carax, only to discover that there are hardly any copies left in existence—someone has been tracking down and burning copies of all of Carax’s books. Daniel begins an investigation that spans years and leads him through a complicated web of secrets, lies, love, betrayal and death.

It is important to note that this is just as much a coming-of-age story as it is a deliciously tantalizing mystery. As Daniel investigates the deep, dark secrets of Julian Carax’s life, he learns his own lessons about life, love and the pains of growing up. Zafón really intertwined these two stories beautifully; as gripping as the mystery of Carax’s life is, I never found myself thinking that Daniel’s own story was getting in the way. I really enjoyed following his personal journey as he grew older, fell in love and learned what it means to be a responsible adult.

Of course, I cannot write this review without mentioning my favorite character—Fermín Romero de Torres! Fermín serves as the comic relief throughout the story and is one of the most hilarious characters I’ve ever come across. He has a quick tongue, a tendency dive into spirited political discussions and an insatiable love for the ladies (in a mostly gentlemanly way, of course). I’ll give you an example of one of Fermín’s nuggets of wisdom that he bestows on Daniel:

“The trouble is that man, going back to Freud—and excuse the metaphor—heats up like a lightbulb: red hot in the twinkling of an eye and cold again in a flash. The female, on the other hand—and this is pure science—heats up like an iron, if you see what I mean. Slowly, over a low heat, like a tasty stew. But then, once she has heated up, there’s no stopping her. Like the steel furnaces in Vizcaya.”

Take note of that, dudes 😉

Anyway, this book is masterfully written and jam-packed with as much epic awesomeness as a batch of ooey, gooey, fresh-out-of-the-oven magic bars. Mmmmm.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

I can’t wait to read more of Mr. Zafón’s books!

the bookish slacker

I know, I know. Where the heck have I been? I’m sorry that I haven’t posted in a while. I assure you that although I haven’t been around, I’m still reading and have plans for more reviews in the not-too-distant future!  I have been neglecting the blog because of a potentially exciting development in my life that I have been so absorbed in. No, it’s not a baby.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on here but I have a second interview coming up for a position at an educational institution that shall remain nameless. The first interview was over the phone with four people and that was pretty nerve wracking. The second interview will be in person and it will be much more nerve wracking because I’m going to be meeting with nine people. NINE! AHHHHH!

So basically, I’m a big ball of nerves and excitement right now and I have a lot of preparation ahead of me over the next week, so I may be MIA for a bit longer. I am definitely looking forward to getting back to my reviews once I can exhale and figure out if there’s going to be a next step in this process.

Wish me luck!

Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

I think I might be in love with Gillian Flynn. With Dark Places, not only did I love how her amazing wit shone through on every page, but just when I was feeling a little smug because I thought I figured out the whodunit early on, Gillian was like “guess again.”

 In addition to her amazing ability to make a reader cringe and gasp on one page and laugh out loud on the next, the woman has such a knack for developing characters that are so morally bankrupt, people that you know you would find repugnant if they were real, but you can’t help loving them in the context of their own world. For me, Libby Day is one of those characters.

Plot: In the wee hours of January 3, 1985, Patty Day and two of her young daughters were brutally murdered in what became known as the “Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” Only seven-year-old Libby managed to escape the house and later testified in court that it was her 15-year-old brother Ben who killed their family. After twenty five years, Libby is contacted by Lyle Wirth, a member of the Kill Club, an underground group that is obsessed with mysterious crimes. The Kill Club believes that Libby was coached; that Ben was wrongfully accused with no evidence.  Lyle offers Libby money to help put the missing pieces together and get in touch with the people from her past who might be able to give her some details that will lead her in the right direction. Broke and desperate for cash, Libby agrees. But in digging up the past, Libby finds herself in very real danger, trying to escape a murderer who left one behind.

Libby is not completely a sympathetic character. Of course you feel sorry for her because her family was murdered when she was a child. But for all the years that followed, Libby counted on money from donations and her book, Brand New Day! Don’t Just Survive Childhood Trauma—Surpass It!, to support her so she wouldn’t have to get a job. After twenty five years and more recent tragedies, Libby’s case has lost its luster, so she can no longer count on that money. When the Kill Club offers to buy souvenirs from her childhood and pay her to contact people, Libby is relieved that she doesn’t have to look for a job. Profiting off the death of her family is so much easier. On top of that, Libby is a klepto and feels compelled to steal something from every place she visits, mostly because she’s too lazy to buy anything.

 But what Libby lacks in morality, she makes up for in wit and coolness. When you look at the world through Libby’s eyes, you see that everyone is full of shit. So why bother acting like a good girl? Libby plays by her own rules and that’s what makes her fun to follow around.

My rating 4.5 out of 5 stars.

If you like mystery, crime and disturbing stuff, you should read this book.

Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

paris wife

I went into this book having only read two of Ernest Hemingway’s books, A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.

I know, I know. “How have you not read The Old Man and the Sea? Or A Farewell to Arms? That wasn’t part of your required reading in school?”

Well, no. I studied English, but most of the works I read were British literature and if I’m being honest, when I was in college, I wasn’t so keen on reading non-assigned material during my precious free time (of course, I wasn’t so keen on partying either, so I guess that makes my defense extra lame).

Whatever, let’s get down to business.

Plot: One night in 1920, 28-year-old Hadley Richardson meets 21-year-old Ernest Hemingway at a friend’s place in Chicago. After two weeks of getting to know the charming young writer, Hadley goes back home to St. Louis and the two begin to write back-and-forth daily. After she makes another trip to Chicago and returns home again, Hadley receives a letter from Ernest one day, asking if she would go to Rome with him “as wife?” The two get married and ultimately move to Paris instead, as a friend of Ernest’s told him it’s the place for up-and-coming writers to go. From there, Hadley describes their life in Paris during the ‘20s as the solid couple in a wild group coined by Gertrude Stein as “The Lost Generation.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, Ezra Pound and the whole gang become a huge part of the couple’s life and ultimately help Ernest become the great writer he was destined to be. But greatness comes at a price, and as Ernest begins to find that he can have anything he wants, Hadley soon learns what it’s like to no longer be enough for the person she loves most.

I don’t know too much about what Hadley was like in reality but I believe Paula McLain when she says she wanted to be as faithful as possible to historical record. This book is so genuine and heartfelt that it was easy to forget it wasn’t written by Hadley herself.

I can’t help but feel sort of a kinship with her—at least the way she’s portrayed in this book—because her personality reminds me a lot of my own. Hadley’s not much of a “girl’s girl,” she’s not a flapper like everyone else around her, she’s not openly flirtatious with every man who looks at her and she doesn’t need a wardrobe full of Chanel black dresses to try to fit in. She’s a simple kind of gal. She has a couple of girlfriends but for the most part, she truly seems most comfortable with herself when she’s with Ernest and their son Bumby.

That’s what makes her failed marriage with Ernest so heartbreaking. Hadley invested so much in him; she made so many sacrifices because she really loved him and wanted him to succeed. She shared in his victories and tried her best to lift him out of his dark moods.  In return, Ernest became a lusty, cheating assbag (sorry to all the Hemingway enthusiasts out there).

For the most part, this book was an enjoyable read. There was excitement, love, tension, heartbreak and definitely some “oh-no-she-didn’t” moments. I didn’t much care for reading about the bullfights in Pamplona, which is why I also wasn’t a huge fan of The Sun Also Rises (oh boy, there I go again; I’m just asking for it at this point) but I did find it helpful to have read that and A Moveable Feast before reading this book.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

If you’re fascinated by Hemingway, the Lost Generation, Paris or the ‘20s you might really like this book.

I couldn’t stay away from Gillian Flynn for long so next week, I’m going to talk about Dark Places.

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone girl

Oh my…where do I start with Gone Girl?

What a deliciously dark and captivating tale! There’s mystery! Deception! Twists and turns galore! There is a reason this book is such a huge hit and why there’s already a film in the works with David Fincher set to direct. Typically, it takes me about a week to get through a book but I finished this one in two days. I can’t tell you the last time I read something so difficult to put down because the suspense was too much.

The plot: Nick Dunne’s beautiful blonde wife Amy goes missing on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. Nick comes home to find the front door wide open and the living room in disarray. The cops begin an investigation that uncovers some damning evidence and leads them to find that Nick’s behavior is awfully suspicious for a man whose wife is missing. Did Nick kill Amy? Was she kidnapped by an obsessed ex-boyfriend? Why was Nick’s father—a misogynist Alzheimer’s patient—found just down the street from Nick and Amy’s house with scratches on his arms the day Amy went missing?

There are so many questions, surprises and cliffhangers throughout this story and I don’t want to ruin anything for you by elaborating too much. But I’ll give you just one example of how a chapter ends, so you can see what I mean:

“Back to the far back of the yard, on the edge of the tree line, there was the shed.

I opened the door.

Nonononono.”

I mean, come on! How can you not keep reading after that?!

I think the only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the ending. I felt that this is one of those books that could have about 25 alternate endings (maybe that’s a slight exaggeration) and I was sort of hoping it would go a different way. I just felt the tone of the ending was a little different from the rest of the book and just didn’t seem to fit.

I will say that Gillian Flynn has such a great, razor sharp writing style and her talent for developing details is exquisite. It is almost scary how much this woman knows about putting together a perfect crime. I would love to know what goes on in her wonderfully dark and brilliant mind on a typical day and if she’s always cooking up something sinister that she’s just dying to put down on paper.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I took off a star for the ending but overall, this book was such a treat. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something smart and suspenseful.  I can’t wait to read Flynn’s other books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects.

Next time, we’re going to change gears again and talk about The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

 

Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

beautiful ruins

Beautiful Ruins has everything I could possibly want in a great story. Much of the imagery is gorgeous and colorful; the characters are flawed, relatable and well-developed; individual stories are beautifully intertwined and the writing is sharp and witty.

The plot: One day in 1962, young innkeeper Pasquale Tursi’s life is changed forever when an American actress named Dee Moray comes to stay at his hotel in the tiny Italian coastal town of Porto Vergogna. Having always dreamed of his hotel becoming a tourist destination for Americans (trying in vain to create a  beach with his bare hands and build a tennis court among the cliffs) the naïve and sweet Pasquale is in awe of the beautiful American and can’t seem to keep himself from falling in love at first sight. He learns that she is sick and once he has a doctor come to check on her, Pasquale becomes involved in a tangled web that brings him face-to-face with a movie producer named Michael Deane, actor Richard Burton and the set of Cleopatra. Fifty years later, Pasquale has never forgotten about the beautiful Dee Moray and goes to Hollywood to look for his long lost love.

Among everything I loved about this book, I think my favorite thing was the way it connected the seemingly separate lives of all the main characters. I love being able to read about something that happened from the perspectives of different people because it helps to understand motives and provides a strong background for how events come to transpire.

With each chapter, Beautiful Ruins often shifts between characters and past and present but it is done in a way that makes it easy to follow.

In addition to Pasquale, Dee Moray and Michael Deane, the reader experiences life through the eyes of Deane’s young and jaded assistant Claire; a writer and war veteran named Alvis who visits Pasquale’s inn each year; Shane Wheeler, a young writer on his way to Hollywood to give his first pitch; and Pat, an aimless failed musician who just can’t seem to get his life together.

The whole time I was reading Beautiful Ruins, I just kept thinking how inevitable it is that this book will be made into a film. With the right director, the film could be exceptional and perhaps award-winning. I would love to see Scorsese bring this book to life on the big screen but what are the odds of that happening, really?

I really loved this book. It was an extremely enjoyable read and I highly recommend it if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Well, it’s Oscar Sunday, which is a big deal when you’re married to a walking IMDb. I’m off to clean the apartment and get stuff done before the big show. I’m rooting for Django Unchained and Les Miserables this year, while Damen is all about Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Shoud be interesting!

I hope you all have a great week! Next week, we’ll talk about Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere

Despite my disappointment with the lack of character development in The Graveyard Book, I recognized that Neil Gaiman is a talented writer and did not want to dismiss his work because of one book. Neverwhere sounded like it would be a more rewarding read because as an adult book, it could explore the real gritty, grotesque territory that a children’s book can only lightly brush upon.

The plot: A regular guy named Richard Mayhew goes about his everyday life until one day he sees a bleeding girl on the sidewalk and stops to help her. She begs him not to call an ambulance, so he carries her back to his apartment to take care of her. Once the girl named Door leaves, the life Richard knows begins to disappear as people no longer acknowledge his existence in the world. His apartment is sold while he still lives in it, his fiancé recognizes his face but can’t quite place a name, and his only choice is to follow Door into her world when she comes back for him. Richard embarks on a strange and ever-unfolding quest that will forever change his life, in the world of London Below where those who fall through the cracks of society go to live.

Gaiman goes all out when it comes to creating setting. The elaborate world of London Below, with its tunnels, secret doors and floating markets is so complex that I felt as lost as Richard Mayhew. Maybe this was the point, so that the reader would feel as helpless as the main character who follows the others around.

I found that my issue with this book is that I felt stuck with a group of characters that I really couldn’t bring myself to care about.

For a protagonist, Richard is pretty flat. I felt like he spent most of the book whining about going home and trying to disprove the existence of everything that was around him in London Below. I just found him to be rather boring and annoying, so it was difficult for me to stay motivated to follow him for 370 pages.

Then there is the girl who got Richard into the whole mess, Door. What makes Door so special? She can open doors that aren’t there, doors that no one else can open. Door’s abilities are central to the plot and lead the gang through a web of clues, secrets and ultimately, deception. I didn’t hate Door, I just didn’t find her to be particularly interesting or likeable.

The marquis de Carabas is probably the most interesting character in the book, but he comes and goes. When he’s not with the group, the pacing slows down painfully. I think the reason I like the marquis de Carabas is because he has no patience for Richard’s whining and he commands your attention. He’s an eccentric and charismatic leader that overshadows Richard and Door in every scene where he is present.

Hunter is another decent character. She is a strong and skilled warrior whose job is to protect Door from the two men who are trying to capture her: Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar.

Between Hunter’s strength and bravery, the marquis’s cleverness and wit, and Door’s personal quest, there really isn’t much room for Richard to serve a necessary purpose in the story, until the end when he somehow manages to be the only person who can beat a certain challenge—I don’t want to give it away, in case you might want to read it.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Although this book wasn’t my cup of tea, I still don’t want to give up on reading Neil Gaiman. I am dying to check out Marvel 1602—Marvel superheroes in Elizabethan England? Yes please!—and I’ve heard that American Gods is amazing, so I will surely try reading another Gaiman work someday. For now, I think I need to change gears a bit.

Next week, I will be getting away from the dark and creepy (though I’m sure there will be more of that in the future) and reviewing Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.