Monday, July 29, 2013

A Review of 'Paris in Love: A Memoir' by Eloisa James

"In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris.  Paris in Love: A Memoir chronicles her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life-- discovering corner museums that tourists overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen's sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another.  She copes with her Italian husband's notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools-- not to mention puberty-- in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina's raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog).

Paris in Love invites the reader into the life of a most enchanting family, framed by la ville de l'amour."

After all the sad, depressing, and the recent disappointing read, this was a great book to bounce back with!

As mentioned in the blurb above, Eloisa James and her family moved to Paris for a year for sabbatical and this was one of the books that came out of that wonderful year abroad.  It's filled with short essays and posts from her social media sites (although, you couldn't really tell if she didn't inform us... no hash-tags, to @replies...).  It was a wonderful and very well-broken up book.

This book made me nostalgic for the two weeks that I spent in France a little over a year and a half ago.  But it also made me jealous because Eloisa's family stayed there for longer and ducked into far more restaurants and museums that I wasn't even aware of.  I can't wait to visit again sometime in the next year and a half.  Friends to visit, new places to see, family to show around... all of this after an attempt to learn Dutch when I study abroad in the Netherlands!

I love how Eloisa captured the feel of Paris in general.  The small streets, the fashion, the food... it was all so very wonderful and quaint feeling, despite Paris being quite a large and historical city.

This was an amusing read, heartfelt, sarcastic at times (which I loved), and honest.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has even the smallest desire to visit France (particularly Paris).

I give 'Paris in Love':
Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Review of 'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake' by Aimee Bender

"On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents' attention, bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers that she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother's emotions in the slice.

She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother-- her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother-- tastes of despair and desperation.  Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.  Anything can be revealed at any meal.  She can't eat her brother Joseph's toast; a cookie at the local bakery is laced with rage; grape jelly is packed with acidic resentment.

Rose's gift forces her to confront the secret knowledge all families keep hidden-- truths about her mother's life outside the home, her father's strange detachment, Joseph's clash with the world.

Yet as Rose grows up, she realizes there are some secrets that even her taste buds cannot discern.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the heartbreak of loving those whom you know too much about.  It is profound and funny, wise and sad, and it confirms Aimee Bender's places as a writer whose dazzling prose illustrates the strangeness of everyday life."

It took me months and months to finish this.  it's a relief that I'd finally completed it.

The concept of this book was interesting-- I've never read a YA novel where the protagonist could taste different things in food.  Not just what makes up the food she's eating, as far as ingredients goes, but how the chef was feeling or what they were thinking while they were making this food.  She could tell if the ingredients were organic or sometimes what the people who harvested the ingredients were like.  She could even tell where some of the ingredients came from.

When a friend showed me this book at Half-Price books, it definitely sounded interesting and I was excited to read it!  But as I got into the book, there were several things that made this a kind of disappointing read.

First, Rose was a very passive-feeling character.  She felt like an observer more than someone who actually engages and has an opinion.  She was timid, which is fine, but it might have been better if she wasn't the narrator...

It also didn't feel like there were any real enemies in this book.  Tricky personalities and some annoying people, certainly, but no character interactions that had me gnashing my teeth out of anger or anxiety.  Overall, the characters were nice, but I didn't get that emotional provocation that I just adore getting out of any book I read.  Take Benjamin Button, for example.  I hated almost all of the characters, primarily Benjamin as he got older.  But I thought that book was pretty darn good because it made me so emotional that I wanted to throw the book across the room a la The Silver Lining's Playbook.

I was also a little put off because the book didn't seem to have a goal in mind.  Rose didn't really understand her ability and her brother kept disappearing and you can't help but wonder, "what is this all about?"  But then you don't find out until the end and it's disappointing.  It's just characters going through life.  Rose doesn't have very many prospects for herself and her brother retreats even more than he did before...

Overall, this was a disappointing read.  I will probably try more of Aimee Bender's writing, but this book just didn't do anything for me.

I give 'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, July 22, 2013

A Review of 'The Girl's Guide to Homelessness' by Brianna Karp

"Brianna Karp entered the workforce at age ten, supporting her mother and sister throughout her teen years in Southern California.  Although her young life was scarred by violence and abuse, Karp stayed focused on her dream of a steady job and a home of her own.  By age twenty-two her dream became reality.  Karp loved her job as an executive assistant and signed the lease on a tiny cottage near the beach.  And then the Great Recession hit.  Karp, like millions of others, lost her job.  In the six months between the day she was laid off and the day she was forced out onto the street, Karp scrambled for temp work and filed hundreds of job applications, only to find all doors closed.  When she inherited a thirty-foot travel trailer after her father's suicide, Karp parked it in a Walmart parking lot and began to blog about her search for work and a way back.

Karp began her journey as a homeless person terrified and ashamed.  Fear turned to awe as she connected with other homeless people whose remarkable stories inspired her to become an activist for the homeless community.

Deeply compassionate and darkly funny, this unforgettable memoir celebrates the courage and creativity of lives society would otherwise stigmatize."

I got this book for my 19th birthday from my friend Avery.  My birthday is in December, but I've only just gotten around to reading and finishing it.  I wish that I had started sooner!

This was such an engaging read!  Brianna Karp's writing style really flows and jumps at you-- it's just wonderful and that's partially what makes this such a great book!  But that's not all that's great.

I also like how Brianna is as a character (I know that she's a real person).  It's wonderful that despite every awful thing that turns up in her life, she just works with it.  That's not to say that she's happy or okay with those things happening, but she rolls with it.  Makes sure that she'll be okay when it's all over.  I admire her because I don't know that I could be as resourceful as she was and as snappy and intelligent as she was in the face of a crisis, like being kicked out of the house by her undiagnosed, abusive mother with no place to go, no job, and very little money to live off of.

I admired how she was able to narrow things down to the bare essentials, first taking care of her basic needs like shelter, food, a place to get clean, etc.  When she had to make choices between losing on thing or another (such as when her car and the trailer that she was living in were towed and impounded), she chose the one that would allow her to keep going the longest.  I feel like I would be too sentimental to do that.

Throughout this book, I was extremely angry as well as completely wrapped up in Brianna's story.  The other people in her life, with a few exceptions, were awful and crazy and irrational.  It aggravated me to no end.  Her mother ground my gears worst of all.  She was the worst and most irrational of everyone in Brianna's life.  She was beyond abusive and very manipulative.  I felt helpless just reading what she said and she's not my mother!  To me, she's just a character in a book.  But she's powerful, even from the page... that's a scary thought.

There are two things that I want to know more about after reading this book: (1) I want to read more about homelessness.  Brianna really helped to change and correct my views on homelessness.  Whenever I see someone on the street corner with a sign that says something like, "Need food for my kids.  God bless," I can't help but think, "That's going to be your drug money, isn't it?"  It could be true, but this person could also just be struggling to stay afloat and this is a last-resort effort.  They probably had a job and a home before something in their life happened and took one or both of those things away.  So while I'm still weary when I see someone on a street corner, I'm trying not to be so quick to judge their situation.  (2) I want to read more about Jehovah's Witnesses.  From reading this book, I've become extremely angry with this group.  But I want to understand their views.  Their views are very different from my own.

If you're looking for a challenging read, want to know more about homelessness, and/or are looking for a book involving a lot of struggle in life and overcoming that struggle, this could be the book for you!

I give 'The Girl's Guide to Homelessness':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, July 15, 2013

A Review of 'Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth' by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean

"Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth' is a hard-hitting psychological horror story featuring Batman and virtually all the inmates of Arkham Asylum, the house for the criminally insane. Led by the Joker, the inmates-- Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, Clayface, Scarecrow, and more-- take over the asylum and seize control of the staff.  They're willing to release the hostages, but only if their one demand is met: Batman must be turned over to them, and become one of their own."

I read this at the request of my boyfriend, who is a huge graphic novel fan.  I think this helps me meet my goal of 2-3 graphic novels for the year, although this won't be the last graphic novel that I read this year.  I still have two more on my pile.

This was such a strange novel... I think the story would have made more sense to me had I had a little more back story on Batman.  I knew what Arkham Asylum was (although this book carried a little bit of history, which was quite dark).  I knew why Batman decided to become Batman.  But I didn't know why Batman's presence was demanded at Arkham Asylum in the first place.  So I had to ask my boyfriend.  Apparently Joker is absolutely convinced that Batman is on the same level as everyone else in the Asylum.

Despite missing some relatively important information about this story (no one's fault but my own), I really, really enjoyed the art!  It's such an interesting style.  The panels on each page aren't like your typical comic book.  It's very much like viewing a movie in book form.  It was very accessible that way.  The art was really creepy.  I would describe it as sort of smoky, but perhaps dreamy is a better word.  It's like looking at a more precise version of impressionism.  You can make out details in the faces the way you can't really in impressionism.  It was very eerie... but I absolutely fell in love with it!

I would like to read this graphic novel again when I have a little bit more knowledge on Batman.  I think I'll be able to get a lot more out of this book.

This book will be good for those who are fans of DC comics, love Batman, and have a passion for art.

I give 'Arkham Asylum':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, July 8, 2013

A Review of 'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath

"The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under-- maybe for the last time.  Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Ether's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.  Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic."

I'm not sure what came over me, but I had a sudden and strong urge to read Sylvia Plath, having never read her work prior to recently.  So I went out to Half-Price Books and bought this book and one other Sylvia Plath book.  You can look forward to that sometime in the future.

After finishing 'The Bell Jar,' I'm still very confused about my feelings on this novel.

That doesn't mean I didn't like it though.  I could relate with certain parts of this book (not the alarming parts) and it was nice that there are characters in literature that feel the way I do sometimes, articulating the words that I can't.

I thought it was interesting how the independent events in this novel came together.  In a way, it felt a little disjointed, but they still managed to work.  One moment she's in New York, merely beginning her breakdown, the next she's back at home with her mother where her mental breakdown became more and more prominent.

It was very unsettling to hear Esther's thoughts about committing suicide and how she struggled with deciding whether or not this was what she wanted and how to do it.  I felt like 'The Bell Jar' was a clearer window into the mind of someone who struggles with suicidal thoughts.  In other books that I've read (with the exception of 'Thirteen Reasons Why,' I suppose) it felt very inauthentic because the thought process of those characters was basically, "I'm going to do it."  I have no personal experience with suicidal thoughts, but I have heard that it is like an internal battle.  You know that you probably shouldn't do this, but at the same time it's very tempting and it would be too easy.  I really felt that in 'The Bell Jar' and that's why it was such an unsettling read.

The ending was where I had a lot of trouble.  I was hoping that after Esther's struggles in the asylum that she would feel that she's good and ready to leave and return full time to the normal world.  We never do find out whether Esther leaves the asylum and if she does, what happens to her.  But even as she's walking into her interview to see if she can leave the asylum, she is not sure if she wants to leave.  Not because the asylum is the greatest place on earth, but because she's afraid that she'll sink below the surface again.  I suppose this was a more authentic ending and with future re-reads, I'll grow to appreciate the authenticity, but I was really hoping for a satisfying ending where Esther learned to be sure to herself again and knew what she wanted by the end of the book.

I suppose that type of ending only happens in fairy tales.

If you're looking for a book that will draw you in, even for a short while, or are looking for an authentic-feeling (I can't attest for actually authentic, but perhaps someone else who follows this blog can) book about the descent into depression, this book is for you!

I give 'The Bell Jar':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, July 1, 2013

A Review of 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking-Glass' by Lewis Carroll

"'I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole... without the least idea what was to happen afterwards,' wrote Lewis Carroll, describing how Alice was conjured up one 'golden afternoon' in 1862 to entertain his child-friend Alice Liddell.  His dream worlds of nonsensical Wonderland and the back-to-front Looking-Glass kingdom depict order turned upside-down: a baby turns into a pig, time is abandoned at a disordered tea-party and a chaotic game of chess makes a seven-year-old girl a Queen.  But amongst the anarchic humour and sparkling word play, puzzles and riddles, are poignant moments of nostalgia for lost childhood.  Original and experimental, the Alice books give readers a window on both child and adult worlds."

Both 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking-Glass' were such strange stories...

Alice lives in a world that simply makes no sense.  This results in a light-hearted, hilarious, and really confusing story.

I liked Carroll's use of play-on-words/phrases.  I think that was what made these stories so funny for me to read.  I think it's also really funny if read aloud at a quick pace.

I'd be really interested in reading psychology books or, better yet, philosophy books attempting to decode this mess of a book.

This is probably one of the most difficult reviews that I've written so far.  There were points in the story where I felt that I absolutely understood what was going on.  I would think, "Okay, in some strange and lopsided plane of the universe, what they're saying makes sense."  But then I would turn around and think, "What is going on?!"

The stories are so short that it wouldn't take very long for one to reread them.  I feel like if you want to get even a hint of meaning out of these stories, you need to read them a handful of times.  They're real mind-benders, that's for sure!

If you're looking for something intriguing and challenging on a different level to read, this would be the book for you!

I give 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking-Glass':
Thanks for Reading!