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

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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

Lolita

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Lolita is a story that has no real message. It’s not trying to say, “Don’t talk to strangers,” or, “Desperate women shouldn’t get remarried so easily,” or even, “blame the victim.” It’s just a story about a hebophile (some inaccurately refer to Humbert as a pedophile) that was written to entertain. Or perhaps even disgust or shock people.

I firmly believe this is the underlying reason why Vladimir Nabokov has been put under a microscope and ridiculed for over 60 years. A lot of people just cannot or will not accept such a sordid story without a moral behind it. Especially when the story is written from the POV of a pervert.

It’s transparent that Nabokov wrote Humbert Humbert as an Unreliable Narrator in his own “biography.” Nabokov did this without throwing things in the reader’s face as some authors are wont to do (cough, Suzanne Collins, cough). It would be insulting to our intelligence if he did (Collins, take note. Please). The problem is that he pulled this off so humbly and quietly that some readers fail to see the unreliable narration at all. Thus labeling Nabokov a victim blamer, or even worse, a closet pedophile.

But to be fair, he did have Humbert give away the truth. For example, the aftermath of the first time Lolita is raped. Even though Humbert went into great detail about Lolita’s supposed sexual past (the lady doth protest too much?), he accurately described the following day when Lolita was clearly in physical pain and accuses Humbert of raping her. I believe this makes it obvious that she was a virgin. But even if she wasn’t, there’s zero excuse for what he did.

What makes this so true-to-life is the heartbreaking fact that all hebophiles/pedophiles do this. Every single one of them blames the victim. Personally, I think they’re delusional about this because otherwise, they would feel guilty and that guilt would lessen their fun.

I say we should

but that’s just me.

Another important thing to mention is how well Lolita’s mother, Charlotte Haze, was written. Anyone who wants to look for the population of children who are at-risk for becoming victims of sexual violence need only to look at the mothers, never the children.

I have a confession to make. Normally I wouldn’t bother to include this, but I feel excluding it would somehow dirty this review, and that’s not fair. I cried when Humbert broke down after seeing Lolita again. I realize there’s a fine line between Stockholm Syndrome and feeling real love or compassion toward someone like Humbert, but he’s only human.

We can call people  as sick as he is a monster, and perhaps that’s true. I know it makes some of us feel better when we can label people who do evil things, stick them in a box in the back of our mind, lock that box and walk away, letting it collect dust for the rest of our lives.

Otherwise, it makes some people feel uncomfortable or even downright frightened to ponder the horrifying idea that monsters are capable of true love. What would that say about us? That they’re not as different from us as we need them to be? Or is it so we don’t feel guilty for wanting to be as violent toward these predators as they have been toward innocent people, especially children? And what does this really say about who we are and what we’re capable of doing, regardless of the reason?

~Rebbie

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

We Need To Talk About Kevin

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This novel was like watching an out-of-control, speeding train: I knew the ending would feel like a horrible wreck, a crash-and-burn that would engulf my heart in flames, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to look away. Lionel Shriver gripped my heart like a vice, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Here’s part of the blurb on the jacket of the book:

If the question of who’s to blame for teenage atrocity intrigues news-watching voyeurs, it tortures our narrator, Eva Katchadourian. Two years before the opening of the novel, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him.

Kudos to Lionel Shriver for tackling such a disturbing subject.

To be honest, it took me about 200 pages or so to start liking Eva. She was a bit of a hypocrite regarding American versus European thought processes and trends, opting to take the standard holier-than-thou European’s view of being superior to the ignorant, brash and uneducated American people. How offensive and annoying.

Moving on. It was plainly obvious that Eva was fully accountable for her behavior toward her son, even though she makes no apologies for their lack of bonding. She even goes so far as to blame herself for the tragedy, perhaps unnecessarily so, perhaps not. That is up to the reader to decide.

You see, Shriver was genius enough to obscure the line in the sand; we can’t really know how the author feels about the situation, but may be that’s part of the reason why I kept turning the page, despite knowing the horrible ending that awaited me.

Shriver didn’t do a very good job of adding twists and turns to keep me enthralled, but I suspect that was the point. She was direct and forthcoming with her story, keeping a steady pace throughout.

The only things I didn’t care for were trivial really, and that just boils down to a matter of personal taste. I didn’t like how she made Eva so cold during the first half of the book, but I kept in mind that these letters that made up the entirety of the novel were written by the “after Thursday” Eva. Her perceived guilt might have had something to do with how she portrayed herself during Kevin’s formative years.

Another issue for me was how she portrayed the husband, Franklin. His character comes across as being very weak minded and whiny. Seriously, someone would have to have an incredibly low IQ to be completely oblivious to their son’s true nature. Despite the sarcastic “Golly gosh gee Dad” remarks from his creepy ass son, Franklin refused to remove his rose colored glasses.

So was Kevin the sword that split through the rock of their family, or was it Franklin’s refusal to face the truth and trust his wife for once?

In the end, a mother is going to do what a mother is going to do, and I’m perfectly fine with that, because a mother’s love knows no end. Please keep that in mind if you read this book.

~Rebbie

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

The Bluest Eye

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Don’t be surprised to see that I gave this 5 stars. Toni Morrison has a Pulitzer and a Nobel, and she deserves them both.

This quote is from Goodreads, because they sum up the book just as well as I can:

“The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Tony Morrisons’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.
”     https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11337.The_Bluest_Eye

Precious few people can write like she does. Dare I say it, but only a few times in a generation are we lucky enough to have a writer that was born to put pen to paper. I call her a writer and not a novelist or an author because that would be disrespectful to her talent.

Unfortunately, there are those who have read this book and act as if Morrison is blaming the entire Caucasian community for the plight of one young African American girl, and nothing could be further from the truth. This is such a silly idea that it doesn’t even deserve to take up space in this review, but I’m mentioning it because there are people who say they hate this book simply because it is about a little girl who suffers deeply, and all because she happens to be African American. How unfair to abused children, regardless of their skin color.

Maybe these people just don’t get it. Or maybe they’re inbred. I have a friend that I suspect might be a little inbred, and she’s not racist, so that’s no excuse. No excuse at all.

Husband and wife? Or brother and sister? Perhaps….both?

It’s one thing to be dimwitted and racist, but it’s quite another to lack compassion to the point that you do not care in the least about small children being sexually abused because they’re dark skinned, or Muslim, or Jewish, or even White. If you feel yourself sliding into that type of abyss, check yourself and fix it before your heart turns to stone.

Anyway

I read this book several years ago, and it is so well written that I find myself remembering vivid details all these years later. What a tragic yet poetic story this is, and one that will hopefully capture your heart like it did mine.

~Rebbie

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

Happy Birthday

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As always, Danielle Steel delivers a well written novel that is easily absorbed and entertains through to the end of the novel.

Happy Birthday is a novel that revolves around a few characters who share the same birthday, and how quickly their lives intertwine and change in the course of one year. Steel is a master at writing about the feminine desires and hearts of most women, and this book is no exception.

It’s perfect for someone who wants to pass the time reading a good story without having to ponder over it too much.

I only gave it 3 stars because it isn’t a life changing novel. Call it bias or whatever you want, but I simply refuse to give 4 or 5 stars unless it’s a deep, thought provoking story. However, I do think there’s a well-deserved place in the literary community for everyday books like this one. Sometimes people just need to relax and read a book that doesn’t make them think too much or stay awake at night. 

 

**On a side note, I find it a teensy bit obnoxious that she loves to use the phrase, “he/she felt sorry for him/her.” Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I just dislike the phrase in general, and especially in novels. It’s sloppy and a bit lazy in my opinion. Sort of like writing, “There was violence in the air.” Really? You can’t do better than that? Or you just don’t want to? Ok, I feel better now.

~Rebbie

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