August and September 2017 books

August and September 2017 books

SummerlostSummerlost by Ally Condie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous, heartfelt, and heartwarming. This is one of those books that you read as a kid and take the all the mystery, betrayal, and spookiness at face value, with only a side serving of pathos. As an adult, you read it and realize the pathos IS the book: the real mystery, betrayal, and spookiness were in our hearts the whole time.

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It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in HistoryIt Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I got almost all the way through this book and then just...stopped. It was becoming a chore rather than a joy to read, and ain't nobody got time for that.

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The Shadow LandThe Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read The Historian twelve years ago and loved it. Then I was talking to a friend who had read it and he said he found it tiresome and I was surprised! And now here I am with The Shadow Land and I found it...a bit tiresome. It's all about a young woman running around Bulgaria visiting and spending afternoons with various aged people (in service of a grander plot, of course, but this is what it boils down to) and boy, you really feel it! Whiling away awkward hours in a friend-of-a-friend's sweltering living room in a foreign country, choking down cups of mystery tea laced with compote...we've all been there. If there was a breeze that ruffled the curtain in the window, or a set of dishes that looked just like the ones the protagonist ate off of when she was a child, WE GET TO HEAR ABOUT IT. It's like Les Misérables and the wells! But in Bulgaria.

And this is my fault, not the book's, but I kept waiting for the vampires to show up and they never did! It was the weirdest thing! I could have sworn there were supposed to be vampires in this book, and early signs were all promising: Bulgaria, tall, pale characters with dark hair and long fingers and who age well, a literal urn full of human ashes, animals who have intelligent eyes and act like people, etc. The stage was set for a dramatic entrance by vampires. But no. Just Bulgarians. I guess.

Well, I liked it more than it sounds like, especially after the halfway mark when it picks up speed a little. It's a good read for a book-lover who doesn't mind taking the very, very scenic route...which doesn't include vampires :(.

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Leaving Before the Rains ComeLeaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this book, Fuller plays with time and space the same way she did in her previous memoirs. There are conversations and characters that pop up throughout and you sometimes can't tell (until the end) what order everything happened in. It still works, but only just. This is a book planted firmly on American soil, rather than African, and the US doesn't lend itself quite so well to nebulous retellings of one's life.

My favorite parts of the book were the ones where she was in Africa (especially when she had a newborn) and when she was telling stories about her family.

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The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third reading August 2017.

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Papa Married a MormonPapa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still one of my all-time favorites!

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I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped HerI Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her by Joanna Connors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the most horrific books I've ever read. I got through the worst parts when I was awake in the middle of the night, all alone (thanks to jet lag). If the book had stayed ugly, I would have given it up, but much like One of Us, it managed to redeem itself and be more about hope and recovery and the power of good people...but only just. Connors describes her rape in great detail, so if you don't think you can handle that kind of content, don't read this book (or at least don't read that section). I don't think I'm the kind of person that can handle that kind of content, actually, but I got through it. Connors explains her decision to include so much detail as wanting to demonstrate how rape in real life is nothing like what you see in the movies (or whatever). In my opinion, that justifies the explicit description of an actual thing that happened to a real person - rape is overused in TV and movies these days as a thing that happens to any given female character when the writers deem it convenient, all glossified and dramatic and plot-furthering. This book reminds you that that is not the case in real life (in case you needed reminding).

Connors writes that as she was attacked, she remembers thinking:

"This is it. My rape. I knew it was coming. Every woman knows it, anticipates it, fears it, yet also doesn't believe it will happen to her. And now here it is. My turn."

This strikes me as being one of the most horribly true things I have ever read.

I wavered between three and five stars for this review. I think the book is strongest in its second half, when we move beyond Connors' personal story to the wider context of what was going on in the lives of her attacker and his family around the time of the rape. It reminded me of The Other Wes Moore, but so, so much more depressing.

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The Book of LamanThe Book of Laman by Mette Ivie Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. I liked this book more as a thought experiment than as, well, a book. The beginning set the stage so well, and I might have preferred to fill in the rest of the story on my own rather than read someone else's version (if that makes any sense).

Still a really valuable addition to Mormon literature - I am loving BCC Press!

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A Pair of Blue EyesA Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fourth reading. (Spoilers in the first paragraph of this review.) I can't remember if Knight bothered me so much, so early, on previous readings. Maybe he did bother me and my memory of it has just faded, but I seem to recall thinking that Elfride and Knight's courtship was more romantic than I did this time around. Because Knight is awful. He is an awful suitor and an awful human being and come to think of it, Elfride is surrounded by awful people in this book. I used to think (at least I think I used to think) that Elfride brought some of her troubles on herself - that she was immature, and then manipulative, and sometimes silly, and worst of all, indecisive. But this time when I read the book, all I could see was this young woman trying to live her own life, learn her own lessons, try out different behavioral strategies and personalities (as we ALL do when we are that age), and just in general be her OWN DANG SELF and nobody will let her! They all see her as what they want her to be and then are disappointed when she lets her true self shine through in - heaven forbid it in a semi-accomplished young lady! - a moment of weakness. Like, maybe Elfride IS immature, manipulative, silly, and indecisive. But you guys, she is also loving, intelligent, and generally tries to do the right thing. All she needs is a get-a-grip friend (Unity, maybe??) to talk some sense into her and tell her to just be herself, stop trying to change for the sake of a man, and wait for the right guy to come along! PS, his name is Lord Luxellian and he's super hot and even though he checked you out in your carriage in London when his wife was dying but still alive, he was not emotionally unfaithful because he was just appreciating your beauty unromantically.*

(*I MEAN: "The look was a manly, open, and genuine look of admiration; a momentary tribute of a kind which any honest Englishman might have paid to fairness without being ashamed of the feeling, or permitting it to encroach in the slightest degree upon his emotional obligations as a husband and head of a family.")

Still waiting for someone to make a movie of this, btw.

Third reading.

This is one of those books that I like to read every couple of years. There is something so relatable and beautiful and tragic about the story, and it is so splendidly written that it is a joy to experience. Chapters 21 and 22 are some of the finest chapters in classical literature, in my opinion. They bring everything together so perfectly and then turn the story on its head.

One of my favorite passages:

"There are disappointments which wring us, and there are those which inflict a wound whose mark we bear to our graves. Such are so keen that no future gratification of the same desire can ever obliterate them: they become registered as a permanent loss of happiness."

A Pair of Blue Eyes is a great read no matter what mood you're in. Romance, deception, misunderstanding, drama, tragedy - it's all here. My favorite Hardy for sure, and one of my favorite books in general.

I'm still waiting for someone to make this into a movie, by the way.

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