Book Reviews

Title: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
Author: David Sedaris
Rating: 4/5 Pages
Read: July 2014

This is the first thing I've read from Sedaris (popular though he may be). It may seem like an odd choice, but when I was browsing the short stories section of my local bookstore (and after the employee recommended Sedaris), this title just caught my eye.

I really enjoyed this collection of weird little stories about "animals." One of the blurbs on the back said that Sedaris writes about animals the same way Orwell wrote about animals in Animal Farm (or something to that effect, much more elegantly worded, I'm sure), and I couldn't agree with that sentiment more. These are animals, yes, ascribed human problems or personalities. Yes, some of the things they do are over the top, but I think it really puts the human condition in perspective.

When the characters are not presented as human, we can see the faults more clearly; we recognize the ridiculous and often deplorable nature of many human beings-- "I have to do what I have to do."

It's grotesque, but it is a mirror. All in all, I enjoyed this short story collection, and I might pick up something else by Sedaris in the future.

Update: I got in an internet fight with a random Australian man over this collection, actually.  It seems that the allegorical nature of this went directly over the heads of many, which is fine--and, I agree, the stories here are not all for the faint of heart, but if you're capable of reading a deeper meaning, it may be well worth the short amount of time you invest in this particular collection.

Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard
Author: Susan Crandall
Rating: 3/5 Pages
Read: June 2014

There were parts of this book I really enjoyed, and other parts that I felt were lacking. Starla is a young white girl in the racially divided South in 1960. Dealing with a strict grandmother, and a "famous singer" for a mother, Starla has some anger issues. When those issues boil over, a series of events leads her to run away from home, where she meets a black woman named Eula driving along in a beat up pick up truck with a white baby on the floorboard.

The story really begins there, and it's a tale (unbelievable though it may be) wrought with danger, acceptance, hurt, and, of course, lessons. The book doesn't just take on one challenge--instead, it takes on several, and I think that Crandall does a good job of illustrating the racism present in the South during this era through the eyes of a child. It becomes much more powerful than it would through the eyes of an adult, who has grown up with this. Starla is, much of the time, on her own in this novel, making up her own mind--and some of the people she loves are redeemed, and others are not.

If you're looking for a semi-heavy (won't leave you sobbing in a stairwell, or crying tears of joy) read, take the ride with Starla and Eula, and Baby James.

Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Rating: 3.5/4 Pages
Read: June 2014

I really enjoyed this book--The story of two misfits who meet on the school bus.  Park is quiet, he keeps his head down, hoping no one will quite notice his differences.  Eleanor, on the other hand, is loud--in her dress, mannerisms, and personality. And she's unapologetic about it.

What begins as a grumpy invitation to sit down on a crowded school bus blossoms into a friendship, and ultimately a romance, while both teenagers must deal with stuff at home.

I read this book rather quickly, and really enjoyed it. I felt like the background story was well weaved in to the love tale, so it didn't feel entirely one dimensional.  The characters felt real (sadly so, at times), and although the mysteries of the book (for instance who is writing on Eleanor's books) are entirely predictable, it's still a good read (it's not about mystery, anyway).

The cheese factor had a potential to be huge in this particular story, but it wasn't--it was poignant, well thought out, and a fun (and sometimes heartbreaking) read.

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Rating: 3.5/5 Pages
Read: June 2014

This book combined so many elements that I find fun, fascinating, or nostalgic (or some amalgamation of all 3). It talks about fandom, fanfiction, and college. I found myself wrapped up in the life and times of Cather, a freshman university student who is crippled by her fear of the world, while her twin sister Wren (who suggested they live apart) is too intoxicated by that very same world.

Cath takes solace in a fictional fandom and writes slash fanfiction as her way of coping with the world. The book contains excerpts from the 'books' Cath's stories are based on, as well as excerpts from some of Cather's fanfiction. I would be remiss if I didn't admit that I skipped over these excerpts-- if I'm going to read fanfiction, it's going to be for characters I know and enjoy. 

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book and I'd give it a soft 4 stars. It's the only book I've kept reading even AFTER I noticed a typo/grammatical error. Somewhere in the novel it says 'She'd had gotten used to...' Normally, after something like that, I'd be done. However, I kept reading fangirl, which is truly a testament to how enjoyable I found the book. It's funny, moving, poignant, and pretty well-written.

A fun read that will definitely lead me to check out some of Rowell's other writing.

Title: No one belongs here more than you
Author: Miranda July
Rating: 3.5/5 Pages
Read: June 2014

I've been on a short story kick lately, and I picked this up while on vacation to take a break from some larger works that I'm reading. The bright color on the cover and the intriguing title drew me in, and I ended up finishing it before the vacation was over. I actually really enjoyed this collection, though even though it's only been two weeks since I read it, nothing really jumps out at me about it. I know there were beautiful, powerful, and poignant moments. Just nothing that stuck with me, I suppose. It was just a good read that kept me involved the entire time.  I'd recommend this if you're looking for a relatively solid collection of [truly] short stories to read.

I even may pick it back up sometime in the future--I don't really say that too often about books. My only complaint is that sometimes the voices of the narrators blended together. I didn't feel that there was always a clear voice present in the stories-- much o the time, it could have been the same person telling each story.

Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Rating: 3/5 Pages
Read: June 2014

So, after I read Gone Girl, I decided I would head to the library and pick up another one of Flynn's novels, just to see how I would feel about it. Again, with this one, I was reading out of my usual genre. I read it pretty quickly, and I didn't find it quite as contrived as I did Gone Girl.  With Gone Girl, I got the idea that she was doing it for mainly shock value.

Sharp Objects is an interesting story... sort of.  The main character is a woman who carves words into herself--literally.  Or, she did until she ran out of room.  I found this idea unique and interesting, though not quite as interesting as if she had actually been a detective instead of a reporter.  I felt Flynn wrote this compulsion to cut pretty well.  The rest, however, was predictable.  Right down to the interpersonal relationships.  I could predict the killer, and I could predict how the relationships in the book would go.  Perhaps, with this, Flynn was going for realism.  But, I think she fell short. I'm giving it three stars because I was able to get through it pretty quickly, but I won't be rushing to read anymore of Flynn's work. It is, simply put, not quite for me.

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Rating: 3/5 Pages
Read: April 2014

As with all things that are extraordinarily hyped up, I found myself considerably underwhelmed reading this.

First of all, mystery is NOT my thing-- it's not my go to genre at all, but this book was selected out of a hat for a book club a coworker and I started. So, I went to the library and checked it out.

I read it fairly quickly, but I don't feel as though that is necessarily a testament to how good the plot is. It seemed contrived and just intent on delivering a twist. At one point, it crossed over into being just plain creepy instead of interesting.

Based on the reviews at Goodreads, I may check out Flynn's 'Sharp Objects,' but I am not enthralled with Gone Girl, nor will I immediately rush out to buy everything she writes (the way I do with Elliot Perlman).

Dog Songs
Title: Dog Songs - Poems
Author: Mary Oliver
Rating: 5/5 Pages
Read: October 2013

I was introduced to the poet that is Mary Oliver during my sophomore year of college, when I took a Compassion course (Yes, it was just called Compassion, and it was a fabulous, fabulous course) and Owls and Other Fantasies was put on the required course reading list.  She is primarily a nature poet, and she writes about various forms of animal life-- usually, birds or sea creatures, or the like.  She has written a few poems about her dog Percy (named after the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley [one of my favorite Romantic poets and essayists]), and I have always enjoyed these poems most of all, avid dog lover that I am.

I enjoyed her poems immensely, but always felt a little disconnected from the ones that were primarily nature based-- though, Starlings in Winter has always been a favorite ever since I did a reading of it in Compassion.

So, when Facebook intuitively told me that Mary Oliver was releasing Dog Songs, I immediately went out and bought it.  Normally, I wait for the books to be released in paperback because 1) I don't like hardcover books all that much, and 2) hardcovers are expensive.  But, with this one I bought it immediately.  Aaaand read it in one day.  It was raining outside, and it was just perfect.  I loved reading the melodic words about my favorite animal.

I highly recommend this book of poetry (especially if you're a dog lover)-- Mary Oliver is a very simple poet, but she strings together her words beautifully, and I can't wait to read this one again.

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Title:  A Visit From the Goon Squad
Author: Jennifer Egan
Rating: 4/5 Pages

Read: March 2013

Ironically enough, the thing that drew me to this book (the title), ended up being my least favorite part of it all.  The Goon referred to in the title is Time, and the thought is that it comes for everyone at one minute or another.  I have problems naming things myself, so I can forgive this.

I really enjoyed the structure of this novel-- I like the uniqueness of it.  We get bits and pieces of a story at a time, but everything seems to come together nicely, and I found myself in later chapters recognizing people and saying things to myself such as 'Ah... THAT'S who she married,' 'Wait, who was that again?' etc.  Every character recognition made me excited-- 'Oh, I remember this person from so-and-so's chapter!'

I actually really enjoyed the non-linear aspect of the book--it's not all in chronological order, so I found myself thinking rather a lot.  ('Okay, so, this happened before that,' etc.).  This was nice, for a change.  I feel as though many authors don't make a reader work enough--this is not the case here.

I thought it was beautifully and often times poignantly written; I enjoyed the use of language, and that the book would sometimes hop into the future to tell you what happens to a character in the future, while still keeping the story of that chapter in the present moment (for instance, and most notably, Rolph).

This practice gives things a particularly hopeful or tragic feel to it, depending on the character and what happens to him or her.  It also weirdly gives the reader a sense of closure, oftentimes in the middle of a chapter, which is odd, especially given the fact that this sense of closure doesn't make one want to stop reading about that character.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book.  It's not counted among my favorites (it takes a LOT for me to add a new book to my favorites shelf), but it is something I can actually see myself re-reading and coming back to sometime in the future, which isn't something I say very often.

Beautiful language, good imagery, interesting and unique concept and structure-- I give the novel 4 out of 5 stars.

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