Category Archives: Reviews

Book reviews, including recaps, analysis, and MVP, my pick for favorite character.

Review: Can’t Buy Forever

51rhw10ql4l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Recap: Odessa is a young girl living in a boarding house run by a widowed aunt. She has lived there for years after her father died and has made a life for herself there and gotten to know the others who live there as well. It’s a house full of miners, and though they’re all older, young Odessa falls for Nicholas. Dessa and Nicholas seem destined to be together, but one of the boys at school wants Dessa for himself. This age-old tale of two men fighting over a beautiful girl starts off reasonably enough but quickly enters dangerous territory, consisting of kidnapping, fighting and abandonment. Dessa is left in despair. Nicholas saves her. The two get married the night of Dessa’s prom.

But somewhere along the way, the truth comes out about Nicholas: he’s not actually just your average man. He’s an immortal gypsy. About halfway to two-thirds of the way into the book, the story takes a sci-fi turn and flees into the depths of a cross-country chase, several lifetimes lived by Nicholas and his family members and those who Dessa has known for most of her life also being connected to Nicholas’s gypsy family in some way.

Analysis: I was on board with the story for the first act. The romance between Nicholas and Dessa was satisfying and lovely. The two needed each other, and I liked it. But the sci-fi/fantasy aspects of the story seemed to come out of left field. It certainly took the book in a different direction, but a weird one, and as the deep details about Nicholas and his family continued to come, the story became more and more confusing. It was hard for me to follow, and by the end I wasn’t entirely sure that Nicholas was even Nicholas anymore. I powered through the book since it was short, but by the end, it lost all the greatness of the first half.

MVP: Dessa. Her character is taken on a journey — albeit a crazy, hard-to-follow, roller coaster of a journey, but a journey nonetheless. She offered the sweetness and innocence that the book needed to try and make the story work.

You can buy Can’t Buy Forever in paperback now for $2.97.

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Review: Valley of the Dolls

81ys9egzy2lRecap: The scandalous, spiraling-out-of-control lives of three up-and-coming women in New York merge in this 1960’s tale of fame and self-destruction. Anne Welles has just moved to New York in an attempt to escape her small-town life and find love and happiness. Jennifer North has worked her way through Europe and landed in New York looking for nothing but love. Neely O’Hara doesn’t care much for love, but cares every bit about fame, success and her singing and acting career.

The three meet at similar times in their lives. Anne meets a man who finally makes her feel something. Jennifer is working steadily and meeting men here and there. Neely is a young star on the rise. Anne works for an agent and stays involved in the entertainment business of Broadway, movies and eventually television as the other girls continue to focus on performing. After the only man she’s ever loved leaves her, Anne becomes the new commercial face of a makeup campaign, while Jennifer moves to Paris, shooting risque films and Neely becomes a huge, but unreliable and diva-like star.

As the lives of the three women start to spiral out of control, they all turn to pills: sleeping pills, weight-loss pills, any kind of pill to make them feel and look the way they’re pressured to feel and look. The pills — or “dolls” as the girls call them — lead to illness, rehab, depression and anxiety. It’s an ongoing struggle for the girls that doesn’t end even when the novel does.

Analysis: In the beginning, I couldn’t put this book down. Going back and forth between the three girls and trying to determine their character arch was exciting. It felt like an adventure. In the middle section when Jennifer and Neely start their addictions, I started rooting for them to overcome it all. They were the “underdogs” in a book full of sadness. I hoped the best for them as Anne’s love life continued to sour. But the last part of the book was a hard slog. None of the girls overcame anything. In fact, they just repeated their awful cycles or gave up entirely. There was no one and nothing to root for anymore. Their lives were a depressing pile of resentment and loss.

Knowing that Valley of the Dolls was such a huge hit when it came out in 1966 — it was the biggest-selling novel of the year! — I had high expectations. I understand why it was a hit. It was that perfect “trashy” novel and a great summer read if you’re into that kind of thing. But reading it fifty years left made it clear that it was dated and didn’t quite hold up.

MVP: Anne. She’s the least lost soul of the three. Although she became jaded at the end of the novel, she certainly held out the longest and worked the hardest. It seems she just surrounded herself with bad people.

Get Valley of the Dolls in hardcover for $9.99. 

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Review: Lord of the Flies

lordofthefliesbookcoverRecap: The age-old story of a group of people abandoned and trapped on a deserted island basically originated in the 1954 classic novel The Lord of the Flies. A plane crashes on an island, leaving just a group of young boys to fend for themselves without grownups. Their first goal is to be saved. But as time passes, their new goal is to survive, and it proves more difficult than they imagined. After just one day, one of the boys goes missing and is never seen or heard from again. Ralph declares himself the “chief” of the group from the start, using a conch shell as his loudspeaker to call meetings to order and to organize plans, rules and work groups. Piggy, though annoying, becomes his much more logical and intelligent sidekick — or thorn in his side as the case may be. And then there’s Jack, who initially competes with Piggy for Ralph’s attention and then later competes with Ralph for his title.

As time goes on, tensions rise. Ralph is trying to convince the group to bathe every day, go to the bathroom in designated areas and most importantly keep a fire going at the top of the mountain in the hopes a ship will someday see smoke and save the boys. Jack directs his focus in another way: hunting. He becomes obsessed with hunting for pigs. Savagery becomes a source of power for Jack, and most of the other boys follow suite.

AnalysisLord of the Flies is one of the best novels of all time for a reason and remains just as powerful a read for an adult as it is for the teenagers who typically read the book in school. The struggle between order and savagery proves to be the innate struggle in any society, including our own no matter how “modern” we may think we are. That also makes the book particularly relevant now in the United States, a country divided much like the boys on the island are.

Perhaps some of the best parts of the novel come from its symbolism and foreshadowing. As time passes, the conch pales in the sun, which is a clear sign of the conch and the order it represents losing power. The boys are also constantly talking about the desire to hunt pigs, while one of the characters’ names is Piggy. If that’s not a sign of what’s going to happen to him, I don’t know what is. The “flies” in the title represent death, like the flies that typically surround dead bodies. The many “light” references included in the book are obvious signs of the “heaven” that comes after death and/or the heaven that the island appears to be initially, but so clearly is not. The list goes on and on.

There is so much to unpack, interpret and analyze. There’s so much that can be compared to other great classic novels (my personal favorite is the line the “green lights of nausea,” which immediately reminded me of the “green light” in The Great Gatsby). Ultimately The Lord of the Flies remains a great novel because of the one simple and terrifyingly haunting truth it proves: there is darkness in all of us, and when things are as bad as bad gets, we can’t stop it from coming out.

MVP: Piggy. Even Piggy “breaks bad” to an extent, but it’s much less severe than most of the other boys. His intelligence could have saved the boys very early, but his lack of confidence stops him from doing so. His story is a sad, pathetic tragedy, but a fascinating one.

Get The Lord of the Flies now in paperback for $11.48. 

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Review: True Colors

511drsbgj0lRecap: Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann Grey have been three peas in a pod since childhood, sisters brought especially close together after the death of their mother when they were young. But as they hit their 20s and they started to go their separate ways, tensions grew between them. Winona remained single but excelled in her career. Aurora started a family, acting as the peacekeeper in the family. Vivi Ann remained a beautiful free spirit, inheriting the talents of her mother: riding horses. Vivi Ann is her father’s favorite as he grows increasingly depressed and ornery over the years after the loss of his wife.

But then Vivi Ann meets Dallas, an Indian in their world of cowboys and ranches. Hired as a ranch hand on their farm, Dallas feels immediately connected to Vivi Ann, and she to him. But she’s already engaged to “the perfect man” Luke Connelly, who just so happens to be Winona’s high school crush. Vivi Ann’s decision followed by  a murder in the town that involves her family sends the story off into the stratosphere and the Grey family spiraling .

Analysis: Like other Kristin Hannah books, the story is told through the eyes of each of the sisters, each chapter revolving between points of view, helping to paint a brighter picture of each character. Aurora, the girls’ father and Dallas remain the most underdeveloped as the story really focuses more on the oldest (Winona) and youngest (Vivi Ann) sisters.

After the scene it set initially, the book seems to move in one direction but then makes a stark turn around a third of the way into the book with the murder plot. For a story about sisters who have lost their mom, have a disconnected father and have a stranger enter their lives, it felt a little unnecessary to throw in any more drama. That said, the book really moves initially and slows down in the middle to end. There’s a period in which a long time passes in the book and the story seems to drag because of it, then rushing into a neatly wrapped up ending.

I really enjoyed the book while reading it and loved the story. I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Winona and Vivi Ann too — a sister relationship that no one would understand but sisters. I just wish both the amount of time that passed in the lives of the characters and the literal number of pages it took me to get there were a bit more concise.

MVP: Winona. At times she was pathetic and extremely bitter, but of all the sisters, she still seemed to be the one who most had her life together. She may have been defiant at times, she’s a woman who knew what she wanted.

Get True Colors in paperback for $10.

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Review: All the Best People

30687885Recap: There are secrets abound between four women of three different generations in a small town in Vermont. It’s 1972, and Carole is a mother to twin sons and a daughter and wife to an auto shop owner. But suddenly her days are filled with more people than just those who she lives with; she starts hearing voices, hallucinating, wondering if she’s becoming “crazy,” just like her mother was.

The book flashes back and forth between Carole, her “crazy” mother Solange, her sister Janine, and her daughter Alison. We learn how and why Solange went “crazy,” why the relationship between Carole and her sister Janine is so complicated, and why Alison is struggling to grow up in a world full of women who seem as though they haven’t quite figured things out yet.

Alison doesn’t fit in at school and instead spends time crushing on her teacher. Aunt Janine is also crushing on the same teacher, as she works to find a new husband after hers died. Carole, meanwhile, is dealing with the voices, visiting her mother, wondering if she’s suffering from the same disease. All the Best People delves into the complexity of women, their relationships with men and each other and the constant struggle they endure between heart and mind. As the story continues, secrets are revealed to the reader and ultimately each other that help explain why they are the way they are and what that means for their future.

Analysis: It’s hard to write a true “recap” of a book like this because the plot of the novel comes from these four women living their everyday lives, truggling together, yet separately. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman or maybe it’s because I have trouble keeping my attention on one storyline at all times, but books formatted like All the Best People always work for me. It always helps to get in the minds of each of the main characters. Each character in this novel is so complicated, especially Carole. The way author Sonja Yoerg writes Carole’s chapters as she gets sicker and sicker is great; the writing parallels the symptoms of the character’s disease and helps us to better understand what she’s going through.

MVP: Carole and Alison. I’ve already explained why Carole is great, but Alison is brilliant. She’s completely aware of and in tune with everything going on in the world around her, no matter how young and “naive” she is. She’s the child in this story, but it’s clear in many ways she’s smarter than the adults around her.

Get All the Best People now in paperback for $8.82. 

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Review: Modern Romance

23453112Recap: If you don’t know what comedian/actor/producer/writer Aziz Ansari’s book is about before you start reading it, you might be surprised to learn that it has very little to do with him. Sure, he writes about himself a good amount in the book, namely when it concerns ramen, but Modern Romance is really his quest to hypothesize the meaning of, research, understand and explain how romance works today. He explains how the book came about: that he was performing comedy one night and had people from the audience come up to the stage so he could read the text messages they were sending to people they were interested in dating. What he found is that pretty much no young people — himself included — knew how to date in this crazy internet age.

To find out why, he spent a year researching, meeting with focus groups, sociologists and people from different generations and different countries. He compiled everything he found into this funny, but mostly enlightening and informative nonfiction book about the millennial generation and dating. He starts by interviewing elderly people who mostly met their significant others by walking down the street, going to the same school or being set up. He found that now, more than ever, people are not meeting each other through geographical convenience but through online profiles, and the way we communicate with each other online is inevitably different from the way we communicate in person.

Analysis: To be honest, Ansari’s findings were logical, but somehow still astonishing. As much as social media has helped people (many people have met each other through sites like Match.com or Tindr), it’s also hurt them (people being ghosted, people sending pornographic and off-putting images, people playing texting “games”). It’s a medium that’s both brought people together much more easily and quickly and torn them apart just as fast.

I finished the book feeling eternally grateful to have met my husband just before dating apps exploded onto the scene, thankful that online dating and dating on social media was something I would not have to deal with. I recommended the book to some of my single friends, thinking it would give them hope. But one of my friends who had coincidentally already read it said it just left her feeling hopeless. I don’t think Ansari is trying to steer readers one way or the other, that’s to say that dating in the technology age is better than dating in the past or worse. But I do think it sheds an interesting light on the topic and important one. I did learn that even in the world of texting, honesty is best, face-to-face communication is best and that we all need to stop playing “games” with each other and say what we really mean and feel. The things that we come away with in this book may not necessarily be what we want to hear, but they absolutely are what we need to hear.

Get Modern Romance in paperback now for $10.82. 

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Review: Walk Into Silence

517dhybyiol-_sx332_bo1204203200_Recap: When Detective Jo Larson moves from Dallas to a small town nearby, she expects she’ll be able to avoid major crime. But she soon learns that’s not necessarily how things work — not when it comes to hate, jealousy and betrayal. Patrick Dielman shows up at her office one day, explaining that his wife has gone missing, but clues in their conversation make it apparent to Jo that Patrick may have been a pretty controlling husband. There’s a good chance, she thinks, that he may have something to do with her disappearance. As she digs deeper into the missing woman, Jenny, she also learns that it’s a week shy of the three-year anniversary of the death of her young son — a death that affected her so deeply, she and her first husband divorced.

That’s when Jo finds Jenny’s body. At that point, Patrick is still a person of interest, but she and her partner also begin to consider that this could have been a suicide. Jenny was depressed about the death of her son and a near-anniversary would make a suicide likely.

So was it a suicide? Was it Jenny’s husband? What about her ex-husband? His new wife? Or Jenny’s odd neighbor who seems to have more than just a crush on Jenny’s late husband? There’s a lot to investigate and not much evidence to go off of. What’s worse is Jo learns Jenny was abused growing up — something to which Jo can relate. Suddenly, this case is hitting closer to home that Jo would like it to.

Analysis: In many respects Walk Into Silence follows many formulas for detective and crime novels. After all, the killer is not the most obvious suspect, and the detective herself is troubled in some way (actually, in this case a lot of ways). Both of these are common tropes in this style of book. The mystery was compelling initially, and the random pages of Jenny’s journal, which are included in the novel, gave the reader great omniscient background knowledge of Jenny. But the mystery seemed to lose steam as the novel continued. It became pretty clear who was likely involved in Jenny’s death earlier than I expected; it took a while before it was actually solved by Jo.

That said, Jo was an extremely compelling character. She got a lot of setup: her abusive childhood, her sick mother, her boyfriend, Adam, who left his wife to be with Jo. I liked that her story and background was so similar to that of the victim in her case. It made the case more difficult for her to solve in that it brought up a lot of other emotions.

MVP: Jo. I recognize that this is meant to be the first in a series of detective novels with Jo as the central character, and I would absolutely be willing to follow her just to see her developed even more.

Get Walk Into Silence in paperback for $6.99.

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