Review: The Doll by Taylor Stevens

The DollLooking for a book to fill the void in your action junkie heart left by the end of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series? If you are, then Taylor Stevens’ The Doll might be for you. With Vanessa Michael Monroe you get a smart, hard, kick-ass woman who rides a motorcycle who has a lot of mystery and danger in her life. In this book she takes on a very specialized international sex trade ring, not specifically by choice, but because they targeted her. There is a lot of backstory referenced and alluded to. I hadn’t realized that there were 2 other books before this one, but it didn’t take away from my understanding or motivations of characters that had already been built up and understood by series readers – and it didn’t spend too much time over explaining to catch me up.

With the holidays and holiday travel on the horizon – this is a good, fun book to read while giving your mind a vacay, like on a plane or lounging with an umbrella drink on the beach. So if holiday travel finds you on the beach (or maybe just wishing you were), you might want to add this to your list of fun reads.

* I received this book from the publisher

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

GoldfinchDo you ever get a book and start reading it without fully knowing what you’re getting in to? I find myself doing this a little more these days since many of the books I read are on my Kindle, which means I don’t have a back cover to consult before I get the book, and then while I am reading it. So, this was definitely the situation I found myself in while reading Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning book The Goldfinch.

Living in the NY-metro area I had heard about a painting at The Frick that was sending people there in droves because of reading the book, The Goldfinch. And having seen The Goldfinch around as a bestseller, both of these things together confirmed my need to read it. Now I’m not sure if I ever read the synopsis of the book, maybe I did, but I certainly wasn’t paying close attention because in my mind I was thinking that I would be reading something more like The Girl With a Pearl Earring or The Lady and the Unicorn than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But enough about my bad synopsis reading comprehension and on to my thoughts about the book.

The book takes the reader through the extremely tumultuous life of Theo Decker, who was just another middle class, mischief-making, single parent teenager until tragic, terrorist events at the Met forever change the course of Theo’s life. Without a mother, his Dad MIA and his grandfather claiming to be unable to care for him, Theo lives with a classmate for his schoolyear, trying to regain some sense of bearings, but then his father returns (bimbo girlfriend in tow) to sweep him off to Las Vegas where 1/2 of his life path is set when he is introduced to drugs, alcohol and Boris, who becomes his high school BFF.

Once tragedy strikes Theo again leaving him an orphan he runs back to the only place he thinks of as home, NYC, and lives with an antique furniture restorer who he connected with before leaving NYC. Hobie trying to create stability in Theo’s life, and does provide him the guidance his father never could, and without meaning to, sets him up the the other half of Theo’s life, becoming a successful antiques dealer (who is still a drug addict).

All of this is story alone, but there is still the intrigue stemming from the horrible day at the Met. All which comes to a head, thanks to a reappearance by Boris when the boys are grown. There are so many pieces, layers and characters in this story. At times it felt never-ending, and when I was near the ending I nearly stopped reading the 700+ page book because I didn’t like where I was being taken by Tartt, but I have to say, she pulled it all together nicely in the end.

Tartt’s writing was so beautiful at times (but you don’t need me to say that, the book cover flair that says Pulitzer Prize probably tipped you off to that). She also created such vibrant characters (but with 700+ pages she has room to do that). But what I was surprised about was also the real sense of tension the book had, I wasn’t really expecting that either. At the end of the day I am so happy I didn’t throw away my time investment and trusted that the author was taking me on an incredible journey.

Review: Fly Away by Kristin Hannah

Fly AwayMemorial Day is right around the corner, and with it the time for summer beach reads. This spring I made a little escape from the East coast frozen zone for a little warm weather getaway, which was a chance to read what could be my first beach read (even if I wasn’t going to the beach). Out of the many books I loaded on my Kindle, I read Kristin Hannah’s Fly Away which I will tell you about soon, but I can say, it’s probably not what I would recommend for a fun in the sun beach read. Really, I felt like I could cry at any moment throughout the entire book from the first chapter.

Fly Away is the sequel to Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane, the story of two best friends Kate and Tully. If you haven’t read it, this is one you need to read before you read the next chapter in the Kate and Tully story. You really need to be invested in the lives of these two friends.

– Not real spoilers ahead for Fly Away, but there are for Firefly Lane, so if you want to read from a totally blank slate you might not want to keep reading –

Firefly Lane ends with Kate losing her battle against cancer. Fly Away is the story of what is next for Kate’s family and Tully and a reminder that Kate held everyone together, and they all spiral out of control without Kate’s influence. Tully loses her career as a famous TV journalist (think Oprah) and becomes a sad sidenote in celebrity gossip magazines. Kate’s husband Johnny, a TV producer is failing as a dad, he just can’t seem to do the right thing. Kate and Johnny’s daughter Marah has gone from being a troublesome teenager to falling into something deeper. Only Kate’s twin boys seem to be doing OK. They all need to come together and move on, to all reach the potential that Kate saw in them.

The book was a real emotional roller coaster, not a fun amusement park ride. It wasn’t light, but I did appreciate being back together with these characters, and it does make you think about and appreciate those really special relationships that come in to your life.

Review: One More Thing by B.J. Novak

One More ThingYou might know B.J. Novak from the big and small screen – but now it’s time you know his writing. Novak’s new book One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, is a series of short stories with a wide range of topics, from what happened with the hare after the famous race of the tortoise and the hare to the story of the guy who created the calendar. It’s fun, funny and a fast read, and you can here Novak’s snarky voice coming through in many places (an added bonus).

I am not typically a fan of short stories, I like to invest in a character and story, but kudos to Novak for creating some stories with a real character and storyline arc. Sure, there were some pieces that didn’t strike a high note with me, but overall I enjoyed the book. Plus I did appreciate having short chapters when I was reading before bed, or while on the elliptical. Maybe there will be more short stories in my future – hopefully some ones from Novak.

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsRelationships in high school can be complicated – they can be especially complicated when you meet your boyfriend at your cancer support group. To make her mom happy, Hazel attends the weekly support group, watching people come and go, and sometimes permanently go. She keeps herself closed off, making snarky comments if she contributes at all, until the day Augustus arrives to support his friend. Of course Augustus isn’t there just to support a friend, he had cancer too, that robbed him of his leg. This is the world that John Green brings us in to in The Fault in Our Stars.

Hazel still tries to protect herself when she first meets Augustus. She is quite debilitated from her cancer – her lungs can’t keep up with her, and she needs to be on oxygen. She also lives very aware of her disease, and the fragility of life. But teenagers being teenagers, even those wise beyond their years thanks to living under the shadow of disease, love finds a way.

This is such a beautiful book about the importance of love and living life to the fullest. I really loved it – but just a word of warning – have the tissues handy.

— OK so the past two reviews have been books that are also about to be movies starring Shailene Woodley. Seriously, I can’t wait to see both. In the meantime, check out the movie previews for Divergent (opening March 21) and The Fault in Our Stars (opening in June).

Review: Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth

DivergentA dystopian trilogy with a strong female lead character who makes sacrifices for the sake of her family – no I am not late to The Hunger Games party, this is also a look at the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I read the first book Divergent back last year and see a review for the book is missing from my site (missing as in, I never wrote one — it must have been while I was taking my unannounced hiatus). I came to the series when a few friends posted about it on my Facebook call for a good summer read. And the book did fit the bill, I quickly feel into like with the heroine Beatrice, aka Tris. She’s cool, but uncertain and so she plays up being dark and sullen. If there were Emo in this undated future of the fallen apart Chicago society, she would totally be it.

I liked the concept that the book explored, a society that is divided by the type of personalty set that you are – if your main focus is book smarts and knowledge you are Erudite, selfless you are Abnegation, put truth above everything you are Candor, strive to keep the peace you are Amity and if you’re bold to the point of reckless you are Dauntless. Tris was raised in an Abnegation household, but at the time of choosing she chose to move to Dauntless. And in this society, you do sort of get to choose – you take an aptitude test (it’s the future so it’s a brain simulation and all very Matrix-like) and are told what you are meant for. Of course there is one other group that no one speaks of, they exist in old-wives tales – the Divergent, those who could fit into multiple groups, they really can’t be categorized.

I doubt I am really spoiling anything here (and if I am don’t read on …) but Tris is really Divergent. To avoid being found out as Divergent she chooses to advance her Dauntless tendencies, turning her back on her parents and brother.

OK, so that’s the set-up for Divergent. A showdown happens that brings us to the second in the series Insurgent, which picks up where Divergent ends. I have to be honest, I waited a few months in between and I already have a bad memory when it comes to many books. So, I was a little lost in the beginning because it didn’t have a great recap and at times I found myself being pretty far into the book before a little light bulb went off on some of the plot points. But that aside, I enjoyed this book and watching Tris develop and start to realize who she is as a person and not specifically a “type.” That doesn’t mean I always liked or agreed with who she was becoming – as a dystopian teen she has an overinflated sense of obligation over things.

I haven’t yet read the third and final book, Allegiant, but I have it and will get to it in the not too distant future. So while it’s not fair to judge the whole series yet, I’m going to say that it’s not as good as The Hunger Games — in the writing, flow, story, etc. — but it’s still an enjoyable YA series that explores important topics of personalty and control.

You might have heard the rumblings, or even seen a preview that Divergent will be a movie coming out this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing that. As I was reading it I could see that the story would translate well on the big screen, and I think this movie might be one of the few where I enjoy the movie better then the book, but all in all I am not disappointed in the time I am spending reading this series.

Review: The Lowland by Jhumpta Lahiri

The LowlandTwo brothers, raised almost like twins. They share everything except a sense of adventure (or at least a fear of danger). Subhash, the older brother, is mature, level headed, while Udayan is the risk taker – and there are many risks to take in India in the 60s and 70s, as political upheaval overtakes Calcutta, taking Udayan with it. Udayan stays and builds a life in India becoming more involved with politics, while Subhash leaves India to pursue a PhD in Rhode Island. This is the world that Jhumpta Lahiri builds in her latest novel The Lowland.

I came into this book not knowing any real background or information on the political groups portrayed in The Lowland, so I found it very interesting. Much of my knowledge of this time period is on U.S. focuses such as Vietnam. But what I did have a lot of knowledge of were the places in Rhode Island that Subhash explores as he builds a life for himself outside the watchful eye of his parents, or anyone really. Reading about Port Judith, Block Island and others RI shore areas brought me back to my own childhood summers.

But this book is not about relaxing, or reflective moments along the shore. It explores complex relationships, as Lahiri’s books and stories often do, and also personal responsibility. I found the relationships in this book very interesting (I won’t go into them here for fear of some spoilers in case you go into this book totally blind). There were plenty of characters that I didn’t like, if I knew them personally I would probably say something directly to them about their behavior and actions. But Lahiri makes me care, makes me invested in what they are doing – whether I like them or not. And if you have never read anything by Lahiri before then you are in for such a treat with her writing, it is lovely and page turning. Not in a gripping, fast-paced sort of way, but in a slow moving, slow building storytelling sort of way.