Uprooted

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I’m really suspicious when I read a book, realize that it sucks, only to see that it has 4 and 5 star reviews from people who received a free copy. How can anyone trust a review if people stop being honest? You can’t, that’s the problem. It’s possible that some of these high reviews are legitimate, but definitely not all of them, especially from a book written this poorly.

And the worst part is when the review is filled with drivel like, “LOOK AT ME!! GO BUY THIS BOOK! BUY IT RIGHT NOW OR YOUR LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING FOR REALZ! NO RILLY, DO IT CUZ I SAID SO.”

Ummm, no.

What do you think, that people have the IQ of a potato? Really? It’s insulting.

Back to my point. This book blows big time. It’s about a rich, uppity wizard named the Dragon (or Sarkan) that picks a poor, seventeen year old peasant girl every ten years to be his servant. When she’s finished with her 10 year mark, he goes back to the village to pick another teenager. Why? Well, who cares? It’s stupid.

Anyhoo, he picks a girl named Agnieszka, a messy, unkempt girl with an attitude. Perhaps a modern day Miley Cyrus comes to mind? Except she doesn’t stick her tongue out or hump inanimate objects. At least not that I know of.

The village thought he would pick the beautiful Kasia, but he didn’t.

**********SPOILER ALERT**********SPOILER ALERT*********

Bing bang boom, it turns out that Agniiewwssshhkeea or whatever her name is, is a witch, and is inevitably trained by the short tempered, semi-feminine Sarkan. Oh yeah, and he’s downright abusive, with his constant name calling and nasty remarks about how ugly she is. But dontcha know, that’s like, totes romantic because she ends up going to his room and giving him her virginity.

Oh yeah, and she does it while she’s on top! Now isn’t that realistic? Because every girl does it like that, who knew? She loves him, despite the endless tirade of insults and abuse, and she’s as bold and brassy as a Newark stripper, despite the fact that she’s a poor peasant’s daughter raised in a village that’s reminiscent of the Napoleonic era.

The book is 438 pages long, and that’s about 338+ pages too long, In my humble opinion.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

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Middlesex

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Yes, you see that right. 5 STARS!!!

Rarely does a book move me this much. You want to know something interesting? I didn’t even think I would like it. I opened the book, sighed heavily, and plunged through the first 80 or so pages before I even realized I had gotten that far into it.

It’s a fairly hefty book (depending on how much you like to read), ending at 544 pages. And I wanted 544 more. At least.

I could not get enough. It was almost a multi-generational journey, told from the point of view as a hermaphrodite named Cal.

His journey begins before he’s even born, from his incestuous grandparents paving the way for him to be born with the hermaphrodite gene.

It’s so unpretentious, so matter-of-fact, so…perfect. 🙂

Cal doesn’t take himself too seriously, despite what he’s been through, which is a lot more than what most of us have to face. We know who we are and never have to question it. But people like Cal, or transgendered people face a reality that we can’t possibly understand completely unless we go through it.

The author, Jeffrey Eugenides, tackles this rarely discussed subject with respect and grace, I must say. It’s so refereshing to read words written by a man that are so compassionate and realistic, so compelling, especially from the pov of a hermaphrodite from childhood to adulthood. I’m sure that must’ve been quite a challenge. How do you research it? How do you get in the minds of someone going through that, and take into consideration the difference of personality, gender confusion, or even time period? It’s genius, to say the least.

The only thing I wished for was something different for Cal’s father. But I fully accept that life isn’t perfect and we should face this head-on, even in novels.

Oh yeah, and it was heartwarming and lovely to read about Cal’s first love, and his love life and desire to be loved in return, especially as an adult. How beautiful!

Please give this book a chance if you have the time to read it. It’s definitely worth a go.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

We Are Water

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I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this book. There were times I thought for sure I would give it 1 or 2 stars, when I could barely get through it, but I gritted my teeth and plowed through. And now I’m glad I did, because I’ve had time to reflect, and now feel that Wally Lamb’s stream-of-consciousness writing is done so perfectly that he merits three stars. But only for that reason.

The blurb on the jacket of the book is deceiving; it’s supposed to be about a middle aged woman who leaves her husband after 26+ years of marriage for another woman, their subsequent wedding, and how her family copes with it. But it isn’t about that at all. At least not for the most part. Oh, Annie does leave her husband. And she does marry her fiancé Viveca (the wedding is very near the end of the book). And her family does cope with it, just not in any sort of realistic way.

*The wedding isn’t a spoiler; it’s right there on the jacket of the book.

You see, it was sort of ass backwards. Her three kids, the twins Ariane and Andrew, and their youngest daughter, Marissa, each cope with the shock of their mother’s exit from the closet differently. But to me, it seems that some of it was a bit negative. In reality, young adults tend to be more liberal than their parents, with each generation becoming just a bit more tolerant of change than the previous generations. That’s just the way the world spins.

Of course, there are exceptions to this, but what’s unfortunate about the way that Wally Lamb (excellent name, btw) has chosen to explore the only conservative character in his book is to turn her into a caricature of a real person. How unfair and disappointing. It’s obvious that Lamb is a liberal and takes that pov in his books, which is totally understandable and acceptable; it’s his right to do so. But that doesn’t mean it’s right to turn Casey-Lee into a hateful, close-minded little troll either.

Not all Texans or conservatives are like that, and this generalization is a big reason why both sides can’t see eye to eye. Maybe it’s natural to fail to see the points of other people, and to trivialize their better parts of their nature just because we don’t agree with their philosophies.

However, when it comes to reading novels, I expect a certain amount of enlightenment from the author. After all, they believe they know enough about human nature to create realistic, believable characters from thin air, and they expect to be paid for it. In return for my money and attention, I expect at least that much from them, but unfortunately it was a Big Fat Fail with Casey-Lee, Andrew’s fiancé.  What makes it even worse is that Casey-Lee is the only character who is this poorly written. Even Kent Kelly is written superbly, and I’m sure that was no easy task.

Another point I’d like to make is regarding Orion Oh, Annie’s ex-husband. Judging from his and Annie’s sex life, we’re supposed to deduce that Annie was in the closet during her entire marriage. Not bisexual, but a lesbian. Due to this, I take issue with the fact that Orion Oh’s reaction to this was much too mild.

I’ve known people who have been left out of the blue like this. Their husband/wife came out of the closet and left them for another man/woman. Like it or not, it hurts differently and worse when that happens, partially because the injured person feels like they were lied to for most of their lives. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be happy and stay true to themselves, but if you’re going to write about a sticky subject like this, then you need to be honest and not sugar coat things. This is a much trickier and messy situation than a lot of things that can go wrong in a marriage. Being politically correct or having wishful thinking has no place in a story like this.

Strangely enough, the biggest issue I have has nothing to do with any of that. It has everything to do with Annie and what she did to Andrew. That was  a much bigger deal than it was made to be in the book, and unfortunately, it felt as though it was being swept under the rug, trivialized, and not properly dealt with by Annie. Sorry, but I just can’t ignore that and focus on her gay wedding like it’s a small matter that can be overcome easily. It’s too big of an issue; in fact, entire books have been written based on this one thing alone, so it’s preposterous to expect readers to go along with the way it was written.

And now I understand perfectly why Andrew did what he did (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it). He was looking for someone to blame and possibly express his rage to, and hasn’t even begun to deal with the real reason: his MOTHER.

Now that’s a worthy sequel. Just as long as Lamb is willing to approach it honestly.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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“Classic.” “The first feminist novel.” “One of the best books of the twentieth century.” These statements and so many more have been written about this book, and you could say they’re all accurate, depending on your perspective.

I say it’s a beautiful coming-of-age story that was written when a woman’s choices were limited in life, especially for an African American woman, or any other minority for that matter.

Yes, I did think Janie was being a little foolish and ungrateful for skipping town on her husband to go be with a man she had only known for a couple weeks.  I do not like that behavior, and won’t excuse it unless there’s no other option to run, such as abuse. The good news is we get to see Janie’s metamorphosis beyond her youthful decisions because this book ventures through all three of her marriages, and does a wonderful job of showing that above all, happiness lies within, and we deserve to have it as equals.

It’s so sweet it makes me want to start hugging everybody.

Not that it’s important. but it’s possible that I took off the half star for Janie running off with Jody because I’m not a feminist. Someone has to point out that it’s not right to leave your husband because you don’t want to be a farmer’s wife, and want romance and fur coats, blah blah. I say people get back what they put in, and that’s worked for me so far. It’s important to consider other people’s feelings before we make selfish decisions.

Okay, back to the review.

Zurston’s dialect is written in a way that can make it difficult to read in a nice, easy flow. Yes, hearing the words sounded out makes them feel authentic for the time period and culture, but in my humble opinion, perhaps some exceptions could have been made to make it a teensy bit easier to read.

Not to mention that Hurston does something in her book that befalls some writers. She chooses to tell her story from the perspective of Janie talking to her friend Pheoby, from childhood up through her third marriage. That’s all fine and dandy, until you get to the parts where we’re reading about other people’s conversations that Janie knows nothing about. This might seem like a small matter, but really it’s a glaring issue. Willing suspension of belief should be reserved for things like comic book movies or screwball comedies, not amateurish mistakes that could easily be remedied if the writer makes adjustments.

Overall, it’s a good book, and I can see why it’s become a classic.

~Rebbie

p.s.,

I would never go out with a guy named Tea Cake, no matter how much his youth validates my insecurities. But that’s just me.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

The Girl on the Train

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3 1/2 lovely stars

“Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps”
Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train

Yikes. Talk about depressing. That was the undercurrent of the main character, Rachel. Call her a drunk, call her an obsessive creep, call her whatever you want and it will probably fit her to a T. Hawkins made her a transparent woman who drowned away her sorrows and neuroses in wine, and plenty of it.

And oy vey, are there plenty of sorrows. She’s still madly in love with her ex-husband, verging on the cusp of being a stalker toward him, his mistress turned new wife, and of course, one creepy scene involving their new baby.

Oh, and speaking of new wife, I don’t care how Paula Hawkins tries to spin her, I just won’t like her no matter what. I can’t be besties with a character that is completely arrogant about her disgusting and inappropriate behavior. Yeah, maybe I sound like a puritan that belongs in the 1800s, but so be it. I wish we could trust people more, especially women, but unfortunately a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. Here’s a short excerpt of her nasty ass:

“I miss being a mistress. I enjoyed it. I loved it, in fact. I never felt guilty. I pretended I did. I had to, with my married girlfriends, the ones who live in terror of the pert au pair or the pretty, funny girl in the office who can talk about football and spends half her life in the gym. I had to tell them that of course I felt terrible about it, of course I felt bad for his wife, I never meant for any of this to happen, we fell in love, what could we do? The truth is, I never felt bad for Rachel…. She just wasn’t real to me, and anyway, I was enjoying myself too much. Being the other woman is a huge turn-on, there’s no point denying it: you’re the one he can’t help but betray his wife for, even though he loves her. That’s just how irresistible you are.” – Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train

Moving on.

This is a classic psych thriller, mystery whodunit that might keep you turning page after page just to get to the end. The only difference between this story and a lot of others is that most of the characters are generally unlikable. That’s ok though, it just makes them more realistic in my opinion.

You’ve probably read countless comparisons between The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and all that’s true, but….this book deserves to stand on its own two feet and be recognized for being the awesome and dark story that it is.

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So go run out and buy it, borrow it, rent it, whatever. Just don’t steal it cuz nobody likes a thief.

~Rebbie

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

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It wasn’t until about halfway through this book that I decided to give it more than 1 or 2 stars. No, really. In fact, the ending tore me apart so much (not to mention left me wanting answers to some very big questions), that I almost gave it less than 4 stars.

Yes, the other negative reviews are correct; there is quite a bit wrong with the novel. It’s choppy, and the mish mash of poorly executed ideas doesn’t make the sense that God gave a goat.

I’m not alone in this sentiment, either. One quick look at Goodreads will let you know that many other people feel this way. The difference is, those people have given a poor rating, whereas I haven’t. Confused? Me too.

Here I was, halfway through the book, getting seriously annoyed because I just *knew* that Wroblewski wasn’t going to explain why his Uncle was evil, why his mother slept with her brother-in-law when her husband was barely cold in the ground (these are not spoilers, so don’t worry), why the woman in the store was weird (odd? bizarre? you pick). Readers are just supposed to accept these things because of a nod to the genius of William Shakespeare.

Yes, you read that right. He attempted to mix the infamous, immortal stories of Shakespeare with his contemporary, coming-of-age, boy tries to survive in the woods with *really frickin’ smart* dogs. Yes, the endless pages of dog training seemed pointless, but was it? I’m not so sure anymore.

After awhile, I started to fall in love. I fell in love with the flow of the jumbled words, the choppiness of it all, I fell in love with Edgar and especially Almondine. I even started to appreciate the peculiarity of Rita, the bony-fingered, fortune telling cashier.

I learned so much about character building from Henry, the man that Edgar encounters during his survival days in the wilderness. Wroblewski walked a very fine line between writing a  nerdy, social outcast and turning him into a caricature of a real person.

Overall, it was pretty enlightening to read between those lines.

Plus, I loved the fact that Wroblewski added elements of spirituality that could’ve easily turned his novel into a smorgasbord of ideas that didn’t fit together and was too all over the place for most people to want to follow.

Last but not least: Almondine. I love her. I can’t say that enough. Her quiet, nurturing dignity was a treasure to behold. Here’s an excerpt:

Almondine

To her, the scent and the memory of him were one. Where it lay strongest, the distant past came to her as if that morning: Taking a dead sparrow from her jaws, before she knew to hide such things. Guiding her to the floor, bending her knee until the arthritis made it stick, his palm hotsided on her ribs to measure her breaths and know where the pain began. And to comfort her. That had been the week before he went away.

He was gone, she knew this, but something of him clung to the baseboards. At times the floor quivered under his footstep. She stood then and nosed into the kitchen and the bathroom and the bedroom-especially the closet-her intention to press her ruff against his hand, run it along his thigh, feel the heat of his body through the fabric.

Places, times, weather-all these drew him up inside her. Rain, especially, falling past the double doors of the kennel, where he’d waited through so many storms, each drop throwing a dozen replicas into the air as it struck the waterlogged earth. And where the rising and falling water met, something like an expectation formed, a place where he might appear and pass in long strides, silent and gestureless. For she was not without her own selfish desires: to hold things motionless, to measure herself against them and find herself present, to know that she was alive precisely because he needn’t acknowledge her in casual passing; that utter constancy might prevail if she attended the world so carefully. And if not constancy, then only those changes she desired, not those that sapped her, undefined her.

And so she searched. She’d watched his casket lowered into the ground, a box, man-made, no more like him than the trees that swayed under the winter wind. To assign him an identity outside the world was not in her thinking. The fence line where he walked and the bed where he slept-that was where he lived, and they remembered him.

Yet he was gone. She knew it most keenly in the diminishment of her own self. In her life, she’d been nourished and sustained by certain things, him being one of them, Trudy another, and Edgar, the third and most important, but it was really the three of them together, intersecting in her, for each of them powered her heart a different way. Each of them bore different responsibilities to her and with her and required different things from her, and her day was the fulfillment of those responsibilities. She could not imagine that portion of her would never return. With her it was not hope, or wistful thoughts-it was her sense of being alive that thinned by the proportion of her spirit devoted to him.

As spring came on, his scent about the place began to fade. She stopped looking for him. Whole days she slept beside his chair, as the sunlight drifted from eastern-slant to western-slant, moving only to ease the weight of her bones against the floor.

And Trudy and Edgar, encapsulated in mourning, somehow forgot to care for one another, let alone her. Or if they knew, their grief and heartache overwhelmed them. Anyway, there was so little they might have done, save to bring out a shirt of his to lie on, perhaps walk with her along the fence line, where fragments of time had snagged and hung. But if they noticed her grief, they hardly knew to do those things. And she without the language to ask.”
David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle    

I don’t have the words to say how much I love this, how much I love her. So I’ll just say she makes me want to get another dog and name her Almondine. This makes me want to hold her close and shelter her from the cruelty of separation and death. It makes me wish more than anything that we could communicate with animals.

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~Rebbie

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

The Hundred Secret Senses

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I read The Joy Luck Club years ago (after watching the movie), and now I’m kicking myself that I’ve let years and years pass before picking up her other novels. I could’ve been treasuring these books all along, but maybe this is a blessing in disguise, because Amy Tan’s novels require a certain type of womanly maturity to fully appreciate her stories that can only come with age and experience. In fact, I think I should re-read TJLC because there are probably lots of subtle things that went right over my head. Ahh, the joys of being a naïve teenager.

Anyhoo, The Hundred Secret Senses is told from the POV of a half-Chinese American woman named Olivia, who lives in CA, is estranged from her husband, has very little appreciation for her older half sister from China, and goes on a trip with the two of them back to her sister’s hometown of Changmian.

I overly simplified the book, but basically it’s a story about a woman at a crossroads in her life who is teeming on the edge of bitterness and ingratitude, but is also in self denial about this. She’s actively pretending that she has no problem with divorcing her husband after 17 years of marriage, and is choosing not to open up to her loving and nurturing sister Kwan, despite the fact that Kwan has been more like a warm and affectionate mother to her than her own biological mother has ever been.

I gave Amy Tan an extra star just for writing the character Kwan the way she did. Kwan’s warmth and positivity, her never ending love and forgiveness toward her family, coupled with her firm belief in herself and humble confidence is awe inspiring. My heart ached as I stayed up late last night, flipping through page after page of Kwan’s story, past life and present. I would give almost anything to have a sister like her, or just a relative like her. She’s the symbol of what has been missing in my life since I was born, so it was a little difficult to overlook Olivia’s ingratitude and immaturity.

Speaking of immaturity, it was interesting to me that Olivia reminded me more of a woman who would have been a teenager/college student in the 80’s, rather than during the Vietnam era. I honestly have no idea why, maybe she just comes across as a younger soul for some reason, or maybe it’s because she’s 12 years younger than Kwan, so the years apart put a spotlight on Olivia’s tendency to act like a stereotypical bratty sibling.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Olivia. In fact, a lot of the choked back tears I held came from reading about her deep insecurity and fears of losing her husband to a woman she can’t even compete with. That’s so unfair, but it’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. It’s just sad that almost two decades passed before Olivia was able to begin dealing with her feelings, and the ending summed that up in a realistic way, rather than giving it the typical Hollywood ending that cheapens otherwise good stories.

And that’s one of the reasons I know how much Amy Tan loves the stories she creates, because she gives not only her characters respect, but her readers as well. She gives her characters the space they need to sort through grief, sadness, love, etc., rather than just wrapping everything up in a neat little bow and handing it to readers/viewers like so many other books and movies do.

It always gives me a crazy case of the angries when they do that.

Speaking of wrapping up, I think I’ll do just that with a toast to Amy Tan, one of my new favorite authors.

Cheers!

~Rebbie

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie