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The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Review (Amazon): 

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: pathetic and boring

I have NO IDEA what the hype was all about regarding this book. It is similar to Gone Girl, in that there’s not a single likable character in this book. But Gone Girl was actually interesting, not about a pathetic alcoholic creepily watching people while riding on a train. If I hadn’t been reading it on vacation, I’d have put it in my charity donation box unread.

Rachel, the main character, divorced from her husband 2 years prior after he was caught having an affair with Anne. Rachel moved in with a friend, started drinking heavily, and her train ride into work drives her past her old neighborhood where she had lived with her ex-husband Tom. The train always stopped so that she could look out the window and see one of the houses that was a few doors down from her old house. The couple who lived there had moved in after Rachel moved out, so she didn’t actually know them, but she concocted a story about their happy life.

Eventually Rachel’s drinking gets her fired, but she doesn’t want to tell her roommate, so she just keeps taking the train to and from the area where she worked, and mostly just drank all day. One day instead of seeing the couple outside their house, she sees the woman with another man, kissing.

When that woman goes missing, Rachel feels compelled to help the investigation. She doesn’t feel like the investigators are taking her seriously (she is an alcoholic and because she happened to be in that neighborhood at the same time as Megan went missing but was too drunk to recall anything) so she decides to reach out to the husband herself. It starts as just to try to figure out what had happened the night that she could not remember, and also to tell the husband about the mystery man, who turns out to be the shrink that Megan was seeing. Pathetic Rachel can’t let it go though because it’s really the only thing in her sad life so she keeps going over to visit the husband, but Anne keeps seeing her around the neighborhood and reaches out to the police about it. Tom was “supposed to take care of it” but he obviously hasn’t done so. She keeps calling him at all hours and now she’s hanging around. And to add to Rachel being a pathetic weirdo, she decides that she should also start going to the same shrink that Megan went to so that she can make her own assessment of whether or not he’s a killer.

As Rachel starts regaining some memories of the evening that Megan went missing, she realizes that she saw Tom near the train station, and she sees a woman get into the car. She thinks that it’s Anne, but eventually she realizes that it can’t be Anne because Anne has a baby, and she didn’t have the baby with her, and she wouldn’t have left the baby at home. So she realizes that it wasn’t Anne getting into the car, it was Megan.

She goes over to Anne’s to tell Anne that she and the baby need to leave! Anne doesn’t really believe her, but then Tom shows up. He tells Anne and the baby to go upstairs which they do, and he tells Anne how sorry that he is and that he was only sleeping with Megan when Anne was tied up with the baby. Anne realizes that Tom is just a shady person and has been using all the women he’s been with and telling them lies of his family, his military service, among other things. So once she puts the baby up, she goes back downstairs to find Rachel stab Tom in the neck with a corkscrew. Anne helps to push it in, and when the investigators come by, they have a perfect self-defense story.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

This book was so boring. It felt like a terrible reality TV show. All of the characters were pathetic and dull, and the story itself wasn’t any better. When I was at the beach, a woman asked me whether I’d recommend the book (because she like probably everyone else has heard of it), and I said definitely no. Another woman who was nearby gushed about how much she liked it, but she said that the movie was not worth seeing. Not that I was planning on it, but good to know. Even for a beach read, this book was mediocre.

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Review (Amazon): An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

My Review (Spoilers):

Executive Summary: Emotional

This was my book pick for 2016 for “book into movie”. However the movie release continued to get pushed back so we switched it with our book swap and did it as the last book of 2016. I also loaned the book out so I needed to get it back before finishing the review which is why it’s a few months late. Oops.

First, if you get this book, be sure you get the one with pictures. Seriously though, it is worth it. The book is touted as a children’s book but it is actually fairly dark and is about serious issues. I don’t think a single person in my book club finished the book with dry eyes.


Conor keeps having this nightmare about a monster. He wakes up but keeps hearing his name whispered. And when he looks out his window, he sees the giant yew tree that is planted in the church cemetery beside their house turn into a giant monster. It comes up to Conor’s window, but he’s not scared of the monster.

When he gets up in the morning, he thinks it was just his nightmare again like it always is, but when he steps out of bed, his whole room is covered with yew leaves. He sweeps them up and hides them in the trash as he’s getting ready. His mom -er- mum comes down and we realize that something’s wrong with her. She’s in a new round of treatments. And she tells Conor that his grandma is going to come stay with them because a kid of 13 shouldn’t have to take care of everything.

At school, he’s bullied by the teacher’s pet Harry. It started right around the time Conor’s mum was diagnosed. Not immediately, but afterwards. When he started having the nightmare with the screaming and falling. The bullying continues and this time, Conor’s friend Lily steps up for him, telling the teacher that they were making fun of Conor’s mother, but he denies it and she gets detention. When Conor’s mother was first diagnosed, she called Lily’s mother, who told Lily and then eventually everyone knew. And they started treating him differently.

When he gets home from school, the yew tree is just a tree. But in the middle of the night, it visits him again. Always at 12:07. This time he tells Conor to come outside and that he will tell him 3 stories. And at the end, Conor will tell the monster a story of his own–the truth, his truth. Conor thinks this is about the stupidest thing for a monster to do, but he’s also scared to tell his story.

Conor’s grandma arrives and she’s a bit…cold. Everything about her irritates Conor. She tells Conor that he can come live with her, but he angrily denies that there will be a need for that.

The monster arrives that night again at 12:07 for the first story. Long ago, a kingdom was on that very land. The king remarries a young bride, but then he suddenly grows ill and dies. His son is still too young so the queen rules alone, and rumors start that she is a witch and she killed the king with magic powers. As the prince grows closer to the throne, the queen has grown fond of ruling and tries to entice the prince to marry her. Alas, he has fallen in love with a farm girl, and one night, he and his love run away. They fall asleep under the (same) yew tree, and when the prince awakes, the princess is dead. The prince races back to the kingdom telling everyone that the queen has murdered his bride. The villagers break into the castle to get the queen who is to be burned alive. BUT it turns out that it was not the queen. It was the prince. He sacrificed his beloved to rid the kingdom of the queen who was actually a witch. The yew tree knew what had happened, and before the villagers could burn the queen at the stake, he saves her and transports her to another land where she could do no harm. The prince ruled til the end of his days and was much loved.

Conor is enraged! What does the yew monster mean that the prince killed his own bride. Surely the villagers would have believed him without such drastic measures. And why would the yew monster save the evil queen!? She was bad. No one was the good guy in the story.

When Conor gets up in the morning, there’s a foot tall sapling growing out of his bedroom floor. He gets a knife and cuts out the tree. His day at school is more of the same. Lily apologizes because he deserves special treatment. Harry bullies him. The teachers pity him. And then he comes home to his grandmother who tells him that his father is coming to visit from America. He never sees his father. Why’s he coming? His mum is going back to the hospital but she assures him she’s going to be fine.

When his mum goes to the hospital, he goes to stay with his grandma. The yew tree doesn’t visit him for a few days. Maybe it doesn’t know where he is. His dad arrives because his mum asked him to. But he won’t say why. And Conor isn’t coming to live with him because his place in America is small and his wife is (paraphrasing) terrible. And he can’t stay long because Americans don’t get much vacation (preach!) so by the time Conor is done hanging out with him, he’s just so mad. He’s so mad, he destroys his grandma’s heirloom clock and the time is stuck, of course, at 12:07 so the yew monster appears for story #2.

Over a hundred years ago, the country had become industrialized. But there are still some who are clinging to the past, in particular, the apothecary. He made ancient medicines from trees and berries and plants. But as society changed, people started using him less, and he grew bitter. The parson (of the church beside Conor’s home) had two daughters who he loved very much. The apothecary asked the parson if he could cut down the ancient yew tree for his medicines and the parson said no. In fact, he went so far as to preach against the apothecary and turn the townspeople against him. But then one day, his daughters fell sick, but no modern doctor could help. The parson swallows his pride and asks the apothecary. The apothecary asks why he should help the parson. The parson says he will give up the yew tree. He will send all his parishioners to the apothecary. He will give up everything he believes to cure his daughters. And so, the apothecary tells him that there is nothing that he can do to help the parson, and that night, both his daughters die. And that night, the yew monster tears the parson’s house from its foundation.

Conor is furious! The parson’s house! But the apothecary is the bad one. He let the children die. No, the yew monster says. The parson was selfish and cared only about himself. He should have given up the yew tree from the beginning.

Conor and the monster begin tearing down the parson’s house in the story, but once the story is over, Conor realizes he has completely destroyed his grandmother’s home. When he realizes what he has done, he’s in shock, and then his grandmother pulls into the driveway. When she sees what he has done, she screams. But she’s not mad. She comes through the room and knocks the only remaining upright thing down.

No one yells at him. He goes through school and no one really talks to him. He doesn’t even get his beating from Harry. It’s like he’s invisible. He goes to visit his mum in the hospital, and she tells him they are going to try one more thing–medicine made from the yew tree.

His dad has to leave but before he goes, he tries to tell Conor that his mum is very very sick and the medicine is probably not going to work. Stories don’t always have happy endings. Conor has learned this from the yew monster, but he still thinks that the situation is too coincidental for the medicine not to work. When the yew monster appears that night, Conor asks him if he will heal his mum. The monster say “If your mother can be healed, then the yew tree will do it” The monster leaves without a story.

At school the next day, he gets cornered by Harry and his friends. But instead of beating him up, Harry tells Conor, “I know longer see you” and walks past him. It’s 12:06. The yew monster appears for the 3rd tale.

There once was an invisible man. Not really invisible, but it was just that people had gotten used to not seeing him. And so he decides that he will make them see him. Conor asks how–by calling for a monster! And he reaches his giant monster hand out and knocks Harry across the floor. The monster pummels Harry, and at the end, the headmistress calls Conor to the office. The entire cafeteria saw Conor completely attack Harry. Like usual, he’s not being punished. The entire school now sees him, but he’s more alone than ever.

A few days pass. He doesn’t see the monster. He does make up with Lily, but just at that moment, his grandma appears at school. His mum’s treatment isn’t working. Conor is furious and tells his grandma that he has to go back to his home, the one with the yew tree. She is confused, but she agrees, and she drops him off and then heads back to the hospital. There Conor confronts the yew monster about why he didn’t heal his mother. The monster says it’s time for Conor’s story, and suddenly they are in his nightmare. The one he doesn’t tell anyone about.

He’s in a forest clearing and on one side, there’s a cliff. His mum is standing near the cliff edge, and he yells that she needs to get out of there. She doesn’t listen despite his pleas. A cloud which turns into two large fists raises over the cliff and grab her and pull her over the edge. Conor runs toward her and catches her just as she falls over. She begs him to hold on, but she’s slipping. She’s getting heavier, and the monster appears to tell him that it’s time for the fourth tale. Conor wants him to help, but the yew monster tells him that it’s time for the truth, and his mother falls from his grasp.

But that’s not the end. The monster says he must tell the truth. That he had let her go. Conor argues that he didn’t, but the monster says he cannot leave until he admits it, and finally he does. The monster asks why, and Conor says that he just wants it all to be over.

They leave the nightmare and are back at his house. Conor is devastated that he has said such a horrible thing about his mum who he loves so much. But the monster says that it is just a thought. It wasn’t an action. Conor is exhausted and falls asleep under the yew.

He awakes to his grandmother screaming, trying to find him. When she finally does, they race back to the hospital. On the way, she tells Conor that she knows that they haven’t always gotten along very well, but she tells him that they do have one thing in common. They both love his mum.

They arrive to the hospital in time, and the monster is there too. It’s close to midnight. The monster tells Conor to speak the truth. He tells his mother “I don’t want you to go” and she tells him that she knows. He puts his arm around her and when 12:07 arrives, he knows that he can finally let her go.

Verdict: 4.5 stars

This book is really special. It’s imaginative. It’s happy, funny, sad. The characters are all so incredibly believable. I would recommend this book to everyone from about late junior high on. Yes, it has pictures. No it’s not for children. I absolutely loved it.

 

 

 

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The Martian – Andy Weir

 Summary (Amazon): Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: hilarious

We picked this book for book club this year, and I have been VERY IMPATIENTLY waiting to read it. My husband read it. My dad read it. It feels like the entire population except for me had read it. But finally! I joined the club. And it was worth the wait.

The simple summary of this book is that Mark Watney was accidentally abandoned on Mars by his crew during a storm because they thought that he was dead and they needed to get out of there before they were all dead.

The long summary is a nerdy hilarious story of Mark Watney’s attempt to stay alive. Hilarious both because Mark has a great dorky sense of humor that made me laugh out loud multiple times, and also because of his sometimes disastrous attempts at making things work.

Once he realizes that he is alive and was abandoned on Mars, he manages to seal his spacesuit and assess the situation. He has no way to contact Earth. The next mission isn’t expected for 4 years, and he only has food for 300 days. On the plus, he has solar cells, water, and oxygen as well as plenty of vitamins. He also has terrible 70s television and disco music. He realizes that he was sent to Mars with some actual potatoes so that they can have a Thanksgiving. He decides to plant the potatoes using a combination of poop and Mars soil. He has to collect quite a lot of both to fill the space he has for crops (which is inside the Hab). He also has to figure out how to generate more water, which he does, although he almost blows himself up in a hydrogen bomb in the process.

Eventually a low level employee at NASA realizes that Watney is still alive due to various things moving around. They can’t contact him, but they keep track of him with their camera. They decide to not tell his returning crew because there is great concern of their morale of leaving a crew member behind on a long trip back to Earth. (Eventually they are told though.)

This is my favorite quote from the book: Teddy swiveled his chair and looked out the window to the sky beyond. Night was edging in. “What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense!

While Mark’s potatoes are growing, his next task is to trick out the Rovers so that he can take a journey partly as a test run for his 3200 km journey to the area where Ares 4’s MAV has already landed. And partly so that he can find the Pathfinder probe from 1997 for communication. He takes the battery from one rover so that he can swap out. He loads up the solar cells, and takes it for a test run. It gets far too cold so he decides on a crazy idea–using the radioactive power cell to supply heat. Once he works out the bugs, he heads out with Houston (and the rest of the world) watching remotely. A fairly uneventful trip, he recovers the Pathfinder and upon returning to the Hab, he manages to get it up and running.

With contact from Houston, things get better but also way more complicated. Mark can’t be a maverick doing whatever he wants any more. He has a world’s worth of scientists analyzing his every move. They have him double-check that all the safety mechanisms are still operating correctly, and they evaluate his farming. Everything is good. Everyone sets on finding a way to get Mark off of Mars. In the meantime, a fluke accident occurs causing a tear in the Hab, which ruins many of the potatoes–causing the situation to be much more urgent.

The main problem is that the planets are not lined up in a way that is optimum. NASA hurries a probe full of food to keep Mark until he can be rescued as food is the major issue. Unfortunately due to rushing it, it doesn’t launch properly, and now situations are really dire.

Luckily the sneaky Chinese have been developing a probe, and they are willing to cut a deal with the Americans. If NASA promises to put a Chinese astronaut into the next Mars mission. NASA agrees. In the meantime, one of the engineers at NASA has come up with an alternate proposal. They have to decide whether to launch the Chinese probe to land directly on Mars six weeks after Mark is scheduled to run out of food -OR- to reroute the returning Ares 3 to pick up Mark as he launches in the MAV adding over a year to their journey. With much debate, the decision is made to go with the first option so as to only endanger one life.

However, one NASA employee thinks otherwise and decides that there’s a way to force option two. He sends an encrypted message to Ares 3; they take a vote and decide to turn back. Once they have turned back, it’s too late to change. Mark begins his preparations for traversing to the MAV. NASA provides him with a plan to convert the second rover, which will be hitched to the other, so that he can carry everything that he needs for the journey. As he is doing the conversion, he short circuits his communication home. They can still see him, but he cannot communicate with them. Periodically he lays out rocks to spell out things in Morse code to communicate back, but it takes time and he has a lot to do. Eventually he gets everything ready to go and he heads out to the MAV. It is a long journey, but without too much disaster. He avoids a sandstorm (you’re humming that song too, aren’t you?) which is slowly making his solar cells not achieve a full charge (thus reducing the distance he can travel each day). He also has a small accident where he careens into a bit of a crater due to some powdery soil upsetting both his truck and trailer. But he makes it.

Upon arrival, he can again communicate with Earth, and they begin to communicate instructions on modifying the MAV so that it can be lightweight enough to make contact with Ares 3. It is ghetto. Mark cuts most of the roof off of the expensive piece of equipment to reduce the weight, and then reseals it with tarp from the Hab. He is using his urine along with a lot of his other water supply to generate fuel to power the MAV (hydrogen). “If I survive this, I’ll tell people I was pissing rocket fuel.”

Upon launch, everything starts according to plan. However, the makeshift roof does not hold up, and causes the aerodynamics of the MAV to be severely hindered. It causes the MAV to miss its target and Mark is passed out inside due to the severe g’s that he encountered. The crew of the Ares 3 decides to use the atmosphere as thrust to get to Mark to intercept him. They blow a section out which allows Beck to have an appropriate velocity to get Mark and return to the ship. Hooray! Everyone’s saved.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book was great. It was nerdy and funny, but I was a little wishy washy on the ending. I get it. You have to end a book somewhere, and maybe it’s set up for a sequel. But the crew has so long remaining in space with a damaged ship. It made the ending seem a little preemptive. But I guess it is called The Martian and not The Astronaut so once they leave Mars, the title and thus the book can end. I may have to assume that they all made it back and that Astronaut Johanssen didn’t have to eat them all. That certainly changes things if that was actually the real ending. Happy Halloween!

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Wild – Cheryl Strayed

IMG_2563Summary (Amazon): At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary:  sad

I started this book 3 months ago. I borrowed the electronic copy from the library and it had approximately 368,274 holds on it. Of course when my name came up in the list, it was the weekend that I was moving houses, and I did not get it finished before it went back to position number 368,275 on the list! I recently acquired it again, and this time, I finished it! I wish I could say it was worth it.

I thought this book was miserable, and I know I’m greatly in the minority. While I thought it was a decent story, I thought it was crippled by it as well. I thought I was going to be reading a story about a strong, independent woman overcoming adversity and grabbing life by the horns along the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). Instead, what I got was a story about someone fully unable to grow up, deal with life and the grief that comes with it who decides that the way to solve this problem is to hike the PCT despite having never hiked before and doing approximately 0 research in preparation.

I partly liked but also partly disliked the telling of the story–the “present” story of hiking the trail is intertwined with stories from the past. It does help the story flow a little better, but it feels almost as though Cheryl spends no time reflecting in the woods.

Cheryl Strayed is the author of this autobiographical book, and she was 22 in 1991 when her mother passed away from lung cancer. Strayed grew up especially poor, with her mother, stepfather, brother and sister. They lived in extreme rural Minnesota in a home they built themselves. When her mother died, Strayed’s world dissolved. She isolated herself from her family and her husband (who in fairness, and I am not a proponent for young marriage, seemed like the best person). She murders her mother’s horse because she couldn’t really be bothered and was in such grief. (This is 3 years after her mother dies). I’m not sure what the point of this part of the story was, but it came off really psychopathic. And I did grow up in the country and I understand putting animals to sleep. I don’t understand having absolutely no emotion about the animal that your mother loved most.

Strayed then moves to Oregon and gets involved in drugs and the people who use them. Particularly a guy named Joe who she can’t seem to break free from. Her friend Lisa calls her still-husband Paul to try to have him convince Cheryl to get it together, but it is basically completely unsuccessful. He takes her back to Minnesota but she still somehow continues to see Joe and use drugs. And then she finds out that she is pregnant. It’s at this point when she decides that she is going to get an abortion that she also decides that she should hike the PCT. The abortion is so glazed over in this book that it’s like it never happened. And maybe that’s honest. But it seems like the sentence “I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky…” should never go together.

So Strayed decides to pull herself out of her self-made terrible life by divorcing her husband and hiking the PCT. It’s 1995. I remember the Internet in 1995. I was a freshman in high school. It was an email machine, and barely more. However, Strayed doesn’t even seem to try. She overpacks, underplans, and is quite frankly very lucky that she did not end up dead. She tries to sleep with every man she encounters on the trail which doesn’t seem like very great self-reflection. When she finally gets to Oregon, very near to the end of the trail, she does drugs with a man in a van and then goes off to a compound to have sex with a stranger.

At the end of the trail, she eats an ice cream cone, talks to a man in a BMW and then is suddenly “cured” of all her grief and bad ways. Um?

Verdict: 3 stars

I just could not get into this book at all. I really disliked the main character the entire time for being such a heartless megalomaniacal idiot. When she wasn’t nearly dying, she was too busy trying to get laid that she couldn’t see the rattlesnake in front of her. And then she was nearly dying again. It was just such a depressing “woe is me” story that it really overwhelmed any story about hiking. I thought the ending was telling as it didn’t actually say what happened to her. It jumped years and years into the future to say that she was OK and go into a few of the other people she met on the trail. But it suggests to me that she didn’t actually get what she needed out of her journey, and she wasn’t “cured” at the end of it. That it took many more years to get to where she needed.

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Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

  Summary (Amazon): Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: satisfying

This is our book-into-movie book for the year, but unfortunately, the movie won’t be coming out until next year, so no review on it anytime soon. I am curious how they will make a movie about it.

I liked the book, don’t get me wrong, but there wasn’t a lot to it. Eleanor is the new-kid-in-town after she spent the previous year kicked out of home from her family (mom, stepdad, younger siblings). Her stepdad is emotionally and physically abusive and kicked her out. For unclear reasons, she was allowed to return although she obviously doesn’t like being there because of her stepdad. On top of that, her family is very poor and all share a bedroom with very little to eat and no extravagances.

She gets onto the bus and has nowhere to sit as the hierarchy and politics of a school bus are similar to that of a small corrupt nation. As she is walking back the aisle, she’s getting the dreaded brush off from everyone until she finally gets to Park who scoots over to let her sit. He doesn’t know why he does it. Eleanor is big with wild red hair and dresses strangely so he knows that it is a social misstep to allow this, but for some reason he does it anyway. Park has a Korean mother and a white (Irish) military father. His parents are middle class, although it is socially difficult for him to be the only non-white person at his school in Nebraska. He has worked hard for what little social status he has, but for whatever reason, he still lets her sit with him.

Park continues to let Eleanor sit with him on the bus, and he eventually notices her reading his comics with him so he loans some to her. It progresses a little further and he starts loaning her mix tapes (and the tape player) to go along with them to listen to.  And then they realize that they are in love so the story progresses into a full fledged awkwardness of trying to hang out outside of school and lying to parents and drivers’ tests. The awkwardness is of course exacerbated mostly by Eleanor who looks differently and therefore gets picked on. Someone is writing lewd notes on her textbooks, and she also has an incident of someone flushing her clothes in the toilet at gym class. She’s nicknamed Big Red which is obviously embarrassing. She also doesn’t have a telephone and isn’t allowed really to ever leave her house but she gets around it by saying she’s at her friend’s house.

Eleanor eventually comes home too late to find that her stepdad has figured out what has been going on. He found the stash of make up, comics, and other things that she has gotten from Park and his family, and is in a drunken rage. Eleanor slips out of the window because she is sure he will kill her. Her mom previously had told her that her uncle would like her to come to stay with him for the summer, but she had told him no because she wanted to spend time with Park. But she realizes that her only option is her family in Minneapolis. Park talks to his parents and they allow him to drive her to Minneapolis. When they arrive, she doesn’t want him to stay with her, not even until they know whether her family will accept her, so he turns around and drives back to Nebraska. Her family does allow her to stay, but Park doesn’t know this. She doesn’t call. She doesn’t answer his many letters. Until it’s almost too late. She sends Park a postcard with 3 little words…

Verdict: 3.5 stars

Honestly writing this blog definitely puts some books into perspective for me. When I finished this book, I liked it. I had had a feeling throughout the entire story that something bad was going to happen to Eleanor (a la Allegiant), but in the end, everything turned out OK. I did feel like the book was missing a LOT of the 80s feel, and maybe that was intentional. (I guess only in the 80s or earlier would parents have allowed their newly licensed 16 year old kid to drive out of state alone in a manual transmission vehicle.) Anyway, but as I continued to piece together my thoughts for writing up the synopsis, I realized that I wanted the book to stretch a little deeper. Unfortunately I never felt the love story was very realistic, and I was actually a little disappointed with the ending (yes, I said I liked the ending but I just didn’t want Eleanor to die). I felt that having them both move on would be a little more realistic and add a bit of depth to the story. Maybe that’s just me.

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Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review

If I Stay – Gayle Forman

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Summary (Amazon): In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, this will change the way you look at life, love, and family. Now a major motion picture starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Mia’s story will stay with you for a long, long time.

My Review (Spoilers):
Executive Summary: predictable

My sister actually requested this book ages ago, but due to the popularity of the movie, it had about 300 holds on it. So months later, I finally got to read it. And, I was kind of disappointed.

The book was well written, but it didn’t grab/keep my attention. And, like most young adult books, it was hopelessly predictable.

Mia Hall, a 17 year old senior in high school is with her family (mom, dad, and younger brother Teddy) as they are driving to their grandparents’ on a snow day that never was fully realized. Mia’s father is a rocker-turned-school teacher, and her mom is a strong willed feminist. Mia, on the other hand is a soft-spoken cellist who has recently applied to Juilliard.

En route to her grandparents’, their car is hit by another driver causing her mother and father to die instantly. Mia is taken to the hospital via life flight. However, her soul/spirit/consciousness is separate from her body so that she can view the whole situation in a sort of third-person way. (Therefore, when I refer to Mia from now on, I won’t be referring to the body.)

She takes the trip via the helicopter, reminiscing about her best friend Kim who had a bad experience in her first helicopter trip. Mia wonders about her grandparents who are expecting them, and about her boyfriend, Adam, and how he will even find out about the accident. Adam is a musician too, but he’s a rock musician. He graduated the previous year, and his band, Shooting Star, is just taking off. They have had some tension between them lately because Mia’s application to Juilliard is looking promising, but his career is taking off on the west coast. They’re doing their best, but neither wants to compromise their dreams and a wedge is growing between them.

Mia arrives at the hospital and enters surgery. Her extended family arrives, presumably called by one of her parents’ friends who is a nurse. Her grandparents come in to see her and one of the nurses tells them that it’s now up to Mia. Mia has the choice whether she will live or whether she will die. If she lives, she’s going to be an orphan. But if she dies, will it be worth it?

Her friend Kim then arrives. Eventually Mia realizes that she has no idea what happened to Teddy, but eventually seeing the nurse friend tending to her, and all the people in her waiting room, she assumes that Teddy has also died.

Kim leaves and then returns with Adam. Unfortunately he’s not family, and as teenagers are wont to do, he doesn’t go speak to Mia’s grandparents about getting access to her. Instead, he somehow coerces the lead singer of the band who his band is supposed to be opening for to come in and cause a distraction. (She’s some sort of a celebrity apparently). He gets in to see her briefly but is obviously caught and taken to the security office with Kim. Willow (the family friend nurse) comes in and saves them and eventually gets Adam to be able to see her. He holds her hands and tells her, “Don’t make me write a song.” (implying that he doesn’t want her to die) and then he abruptly leaves.

Throughout all this, Mia is going over stories from her past. Stories of her family, stories about Adam. Kim comes in to see her, and tells her everything that has been going on and tells her that she still has a family.

Eventually Adam returns. He tells her to stay. He’s emotional and tells her that if she stays, they will make it work. He will quit the band and move to New York or do whatever Mia needs. Just as long as she stays. And then he puts headphones on her that are playing Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist they went to see on their very first date. And suddenly Mia begins looking toward the future–Juilliard, Adam, and she returns into her body and squeezes his hand. She decides to stay.

Verdict: 3 stars

How does someone who has their entire family ripped from them in just a second remain so calm? Never once does Mia ever get angry and pose the “Why, me?” question that seems fully appropriate in this situation. It just seems a bit unrealistic that a girl at one of the most emotional times in her life (trying to get into college/graduating from high school) in one of the most emotional situations that can be imagined remains SO CALM. THE WHOLE TIME. I enjoyed the premise of the book, but it just remained really flat for me. I also totally missed the metaphor that when they were playing each other like instruments, they were actually having sex. I really thought they were just being weird. But building on that point, I would think that Mia would return to memories of having sex with Adam throughout all of her flashbacks (again, she’s a teenager!) but she doesn’t. There was just that one memory about it. There wasn’t even much kissing. Anyway, I probably won’t see the movie, but if I do, I’ll compare. And there’s an even slimmer chance I’ll read the sequel.

 

 

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Filed under 3 stars, Book Review

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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Summary (Amazon): Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!

My Review (Spoilers):

Executive Summary: quirky

So I picked this book because A) it was mentioned in Among Others and B) my husband owned it. So I packed it to read on our flights to and from a wedding we went to last weekend. And, to my delight and my husband’s total annoyance, when I opened the cover of the book, there was an old cheesy photo of him and his high school girlfriend. So approximately 327 times during the flight when he wasn’t looking, I would slyly open the book to reveal that photo so that he would glance over and see it looking at him. (I think if he could have gotten a different seat, he might have considered it!)

That was just the beginning of how great this book is.

The book begins with Arthur (who lives in England), whose house is about to be demolished. He had just found out about the demolition the day before but he was assured that all the paperwork had been filed and was placed in the local planning office 9 months prior. So he had plenty of time to file the complaint about the thing that he didn’t know existed. As Arthur is laying in the mud between the bulldozer and his house, his neighbor, Ford Prefect comes by.

Ford is not a human, but no one knows that. He looks human, and he has been on Earth for the last 15 years. In fact, he’s a researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and has been awaiting the time when he can hitch a ride off of Earth and continue his research. The time has come! Ford’s Sense-o-matic has alerted him that the Earth is about to be destroyed. He convinces Arthur to come to the bar with him where they get significantly drunk (relax their muscles) so that they can hitch a ride on the ship that is about to destroy the Earth.

When that ship arrives, the Vogons inform the Earth that the documentation about the demolition has been in the local planning office in Alpha Centauri for the last fifty years, so there’s no use getting worked up about it now.

Elsewhere in the universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Imperial Galactic Government, holds a press conference to introduce The Heart of Gold (the most unique starship in the universe) and then he steals it.

Meanwhile, Arthur and Ford are on the Vogon ship as stowaways. They used Arthur’s Thumb (an electronic signaling device) to catch a ride. Luckily for them, the kitchen of the ship employs the Dentrassis who are more lenient on hitchhikers than the Vogons. (Mostly they just like to annoy their bosses.) Eventually the two are found by the Vogons who put them out the hatch. 29 seconds later (they figured they could hold their breath for 30 seconds), they end up on The Heart of Gold.

It turns out that The Heart of Gold uses an improbability drive, which is basically exactly what it sounds like. The more improbable something is, the more likely the ship is to make it happen. Like, picking up Arthur and Ford, 1 second before certain death, had a probability of 1 in 2^276709.

Zaphod and Trillian, his earthling co-pilot, send Marvin, the depressed robot, to get Arthur and Ford. Upon uniting, they realize that they are all connected. Ford knows Zaphod from long ago. Arthur met Trillian at a party, and she left him to go with a man who told her that he was from a different planet (Zaphod). (Ford was a little perturbed about the fact that Zaphod visited Earth and didn’t rescue him!)

They fly along and come to what Zaphod had been looking for–the most improbable planet that ever existed. Magrathea. (Magrathea used to be the planet where they designed custom-made planets for rich people. But then the economy tanked, and the richest planet disappeared and was forgotten.) They decide to descend, also because Ford doesn’t believe that this is Magrathea, and along the way, missiles are released on them. Arthur switches on the improbability drive to evade them (how convenient), and they land safely on the surface.

Something else improbable that happened during the improbability drive was that a sperm whale appeared several miles above Magrathea, and then, of course, crashed into it.

Zaphod, Trillian, Ford, Arthur, and Marvin begin to traverse across the surface of Magrathea. It’s dull and boring. Eventually they come to the location of the whale impact and find that the crash has created an opening into the underground city. Zaphod, Trillian, and Ford decide to go check it out, leaving Arthur and Marvin to “keep watch” (even though the planet has been abandoned for five million years). Zaphod tells Trillian and Ford that he has a lack of memory that he knows that he created himself. He believes that the previous president, Yooden Vranx, convinced him to steal The Heart of Gold but to accurately pass the brain scans required to be president (and therefore have access to the ship), Zaphod could not know the reason why. So he removed it from his memory.

Meanwhile Arthur quickly tires of Marvin’s depressing conversation, and he wanders off for a walk–running into an old Magrathean named Slartbartifast. The man tells Arthur that the people of the planet didn’t die off or move. They merely went to sleep until the economic situation was better, and since it is recovering, they are reawakening. S takes Arthur to the factory floor where they used to make all their planet and reveals that Earth was a custom designed planet (S had won an award for Norway as he was a master of fjords.) and they were in works of creating Earth Mark Two when unfortunately the Earth was destroyed just a few minutes too early.

And it turns out that the customers who bought Earth and Earth Mark Two were the mice. Mice are by far the most intelligent creatures who lived on Earth. Many millions of years previously, a super computer was created and asked to give the answer to everything. It took the computer 7.5 million years to return an answer, and the answer…was 42. Of course, everyone was very disappointed with the answer, but the computer suggested that the answer was valid. They just did not fully understand the question. So a second, more impressive computer was created to answer that question, and that computer was Earth. But unfortunately the Vogons destroyed the Earth 5 minutes before the computer finished.

Then S takes Arthur and they meet up with the others, and the two mice that Trillian had brought with her when she had left Earth. The mice ask Arthur if they can buy his brain and replace it with a computer one. They figure that since he was organically linked to Earth, that he can help them answer the question. Luckily at that moment, all the alarms sound and Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod take the opportunity to get out of there before Arthur’s brain is stolen. They are stopped by some policemen who start shooting at them. Eventually the shooting stops, and the group goes out to investigate finding that the policemen have been killed. They take the policemen’s guns and escape to Slartibartifast’s ship which he has conveniently left there with a note telling them how to drive it!

They return to their ship, and find Marvin, still depressed as ever, waiting for them. It turns out that he saw the police ship land and began talking to the ship’s computer. It became so depressed by the conversation that it committed suicide, taking the officers (they had a computer link) with him.

They take off. And the book ends.

Verdict: 4 Stars

My review does little justice to how silly and fun this book actually is. In a lot of ways (the creativity and writing style most specifically), it reminded me of The Neverending Story which I also really loved. The one downfall is the abrupt ending. I had originally rated the book 4.5 but the ending was just such a surprising disappointment to me, I felt like I had to drop the rating some for it. (I do realize that the original formatting was not technically book form and that there are further books. However, I feel like some editing could have been done to make the ending as great as the rest of the book.) I definitely recommend reading this book though. It’s a quick read, a cultural icon, and a lot of fun.

 

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Filed under 4 stars, Book Review