Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Short Reviews

Since I've been so delinquent at reviewing lately, I thought I'd try to make things easier on my self. Here are some short reviews of some of my recent reads.

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
I found the topic of this book incredibly interesting as I recently spent time learning about the legal issues involved with surrogacy and donor eggs. Before delving into the book I learned that Weiner was inspired by a recent NYT Magazine article penned by Alex Kuczynski about hiring a gestational surrogate to carry her baby. I remember that article and the evocative pictures quite well (I can still recall the mother with her baby nurse at her side juxtaposed with the barefoot pregnant surrogate) and thought a fictional take would be quite intriguing. I definitely enjoyed the book but at times I felt that the characters were too stereotypical or stock. I also missed Weiner's signature snark. Overall, I thought the book succeeded in showing that while the main four women belong to different socioeconomic classes they were shaped by similar experiences and could have wound up in the positions of one another. India could have easily been like Annie if she had made different choices. It was interesting to see Weiner's take on why a Princeton student would choose to be an egg-donor. In college our school newspaper had many ads for egg donors. And it's interesting to consider why someone at an Ivy League school would make such a choice. While I understand Jules's decision and was happy the book ended with her in a good position, she was in many ways a heartbreaking character in such a terrible position even if she was at an Ivy League school. It's hard to imagine their are many people of her position at Princeton (especially based on my recent conversation with a friend who attended Princeton). This was certainly an engaging and interesting read but it isn't my all time favorite Weiner novel.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I know some other book bloggers have really enjoyed this book, but I had a lot of trouble accepting the premise. While I can suspend believe and accept that it is possible for someone to get amnesia that causes them to forget ten years of their life (well I actually can't, but I can for the purpose of reading fiction), I simply found it hard to believe that so much would change in a person's life and personality in ten years. I know that is the point of the novel. Ten years and three children changes a marriage and causes a person to change. Maybe when I am in this position myself I will suddenly look back and accept the premise of this novel. But in the meantime the premise just seemed farcical. The book was engaging enough but I just found myself not 100% invested.

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
This book was so incredibly unique and in many ways off-putting. I loved the language and I thought the perspective of thirteen year old Lizzie was authentic and vibrant. Lizzie and Evie are next door neighbors and best friends and when Evie disappears Lizzie gets actively involved in figuring out what happened to her friend. She believes she would know if Evie was dead and she sets out to help bring her friend back. The book is quite surprising as it isn't a story of a "typical" abduction (or at least the way the stories of abductions are portrayed in the news). The book also raises a great deal of questions about what is an appropriate relationship between a father and daughter and a male figure and a daughter figure. Is it acceptable for Mr. Verver (Evie's father) to talk about love with Lizzie. Is it acceptable that in many ways Lizzie has a crush or infatuation with her friend's father? Lizzie's own father doesn't live with her and e she hungers for fatherly attention. Does this make Lizzie's behavior more acceptable? I saw that a reviewer on Goodreads (who is a therapist) stated that she saw a lot of pathology in the book. I would agree. There is a lot going on in this novel that isn't kosher in the eyes of society. There is a lot going on in the book that is understated and in the shadows. Abbott has a real gift with the way she hints at things. She never overtly hits the reader over the head with details. This is a powerful story about friendship and coming of age but also about family complexities and realizing we cannot truly know someone if they don't allow us to.

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman
This was a really fun read and an interesting character study. I appreciated the structure of the novel which focuses on three French tutors and their tutees. In the end the stories interconnect in such an artful way. I was very intrigued by the lives of the French tutors. They were teaching French but all wanted to be doing something else. They are young people unsure how to chart their futures but they are French and they seem so different than their American counterparts. They struggle and yet seem so much less weighted down by their problems. The American characters' problems seem so much larger. Josie is recovering from a forbidden and now lost love and runs away to Paris. Riley is a young mother living abroad finding Parisian life anything but enjoyable. Jeremy is trying to figure out how to deal with his wife's large and loud lifestyle. I loved the characters Sussman created and am in awe of how well she develops each of them in their short novella like chapters. A truly wonderful and novel read. Plus, it's like one big tour of Paris!

A Year and Six Seconds by Isabel Gillies
I loved Gilles' It Happens Every Day and was excited to read about her new marriage. I found the book engaging but not as interesting as her first memoir. The chapter in which she details her meeting and courtship with her husband were incredibly engaging (and he seems wonderful) but I think the beginning of the book was less engaging. The story of a mother with two young children who must return home to her parent's apartment in NYC is of intriguing but I found myself somewhat detached. That being said Gilles tone is the same: intimate and conversational. We feel her depression over her failed marriage and her insecurity over needed her parents while a thirty-something young mother. We sit with her as she tries to cobble together a future for herself and her sons. In the end, I was so overjoyed that Gilles found new love and a pathway to happiness.

Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows
I loved this book. I could really feel for Samantha, a young mother trying to balance her artistic impulses, motherhood and grief over the loss of her mother. I really appreciated the elements of undiscovered family history and the three different voices.

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