Review: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Rating: ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: December 01 to 05, 2012
Read count: 1

I have this book rule that I follow loosely, but sometimes have to enforce when the book is all hype and all gimmick, which is what this book is. The rule is: before I hate on a book, I have to read it first, at least get through a chapter and then decide.

I went into this book with expectations, not high expectations, mind you, because it was turned into a major motion picture. So I went in for the “eat” part, but knew I’d hate the “pray” and “love” parts, which took up much of the book and got in the way of my enjoyment, not that I was enjoying it immensely. “Pray” and “love” also reminded me why I rarely read memoirs–too many self-exploratory inner-struggle thoughts that lead nowhere. I don’t find any of these things interesting and therefore did not enjoy the book, but at least I stuck to my rule and tried it.

Original review can be found here.

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Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

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Rating: (abandoned)
Date read: December, 2012
Read count:

Someone saw me reading this book in the lobby and wanted to save me from the hassle of getting to the end by spoiling it. Thank you, random stranger. I guess.

I think I got as far as the child’s first memory of the patterns on the walls or ceiling. Or maybe it was when it was revealed that the room was the whole world to the child. Up to that point, it was an interesting but uncomfortable read, and I couldn’t figure out why that was. Probably has much to do with the feeling of imprisonment. There’s a sense of suffocation I feel as I was reading. And then the story was spoiled and I realized that person had saved me a lot of valuable time because the ending was predictable.

Original review can be found here.

Review: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: October 15 to November 27, 2012
Read count: 1

Choosing to take on this book is like agreeing to sign a contract you haven’t read. Start reading this book and you’ve just signed the dotted line because now you’re playing by the book’s rules, and there are many. You won’t be just reading, you’ll actually have to do things with the book. There are activities, and the book takes “engaging with the text” to a whole new level. Think of it as a journey…into a haunted house…where there are no exits. So relax and enjoy the ride.

I love this book, gimmicks and typography and all, and I can’t explain why. Experimental writing that toys with post-modern mind games, magical realism, and a “haunted” house with a running commentary from a madman in the footnotes is as weird as weird fiction gets. And yet I have no idea why I like it so much. By all accounts, I should find it obnoxious because I can’t stand gimmicky books, but somehow gimmicks work for this book.

The story, on the surface, is told in one narrative–the main narrative? there are several–as a classic haunted house / ghost story. Weird, indecipherable things start happening and keep happening inside this house and the family is slowing driven mad with each incident. There are stairs leading to the basement that never reach the bottom, instead they go on forever into the depths of what that’s beneath the house. There are doors that appear one day and disappear the next, only to appear again later. There are other doors that lead to different rooms in completely different parts of the house. Then there are doors that lead nowhere. The house seems to expand on the inside every day, yet it still looks the same on the outside. The family is, by all accounts, gradually losing their marbles. And then there’s that growling noise. Is it in the walls? ceiling? floors? beneath the never-ending stairs? Where is that thing coming from?

The style of writing and format, as well as placement, of the text are chaotic which perfectly reflect the family’s gradual descent into madness and the house’s “true” form gradually taking “shape.” There are words literally falling off the page half way into the book, and there are sentences wrapped around each other and falling off the page, and then there are pages and pages of text printed backward and upside down and vertically. The words themselves are so chaotic, it’s amazing they can even tell a story, let alone a scary one.

But if you take away all the weird incidents, madness, scattered words, and even the house itself, what you find underneath it all is a story about the mystery of love–and loss?–as the author once said in an interview I read somewhere but now can’t recall. Once I saw his answer, everything about this book made sense–well, made more sense. Even the weirder parts of the story made sense–well, made more sense than they did before. I don’t claim to know what this book is about, only that it’s an interesting vacation from your usual reads.

Hard to imagine, but this story is a story about love. Not a love story, but a story about love. (None of this will make any sense until you read the book. Obviously.)

Original review can be found here.

Review: War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 10 to 17, 2012
Read count: 1

It was OK, just OK. The narration is somewhat annoying, which makes the characters somewhat annoying, but the action sequences make up for that. I can’t fault this book too much, though, since it’s the first its kind and therefore, like most pioneering writing pieces, reads more like a lengthy writing exercise than a book.

The story is about a young woman with great musical aspirations–she wants to start her own band—who stumbles across a fae war and gets recruited. She does get to put a band together all the while helping her fae “friends” take back—and this is where I can’t stop laughing—Minnehaha Falls for the fae court. It’s one thing to read about other cities getting bombarded with and pillaged by otherworldly creatures, but it’s another thing entirely to read about your own hometown as a battleground.

Since I mostly read stories set in far off places (and imaginary worlds), it’s a little unsettling—in a good way—to dive into a book that features Minneapolis… as a secondary character. I would have to say the experience is similar to a mild episode of meta-awareness; you know you’re reading, but you can’t believe you recognize every landmark (and street corner) in the book. Who woulda thunk Nicollet Mall is actually a bridge between our world and the fae’s? Or that fae factions used to duke it out every night right across the street from where I used to live?

Urban fantasy has come so far from its origins that reading this book is like examining a piece of relic recently unearthed from some lost burial ground. It’s always interesting to read the book that started it all.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: June 01 to October 01, 2012
Read count: 3

One of my favorite books of all time. It’s realistic story that stands the test of time. As a poet writing prose, Pasternak has a way of inflecting his storytelling with powerful sentences and sentence structures. A simple turn of phrase is often enough to convey depths of love or grief or loss or the passing of time.

Original review can be found here.

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This is the best of Soviet literature. You don’t have to read Ayn Rand. You can read great literature instead.

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: September 25 to October 01, 2012
Read count: 1

Well-written and well-paced, but tepid overall.

Situations that might apply to people who are interested in reading but remain uncertain about picking up the book:

  • If you like trivia and loved the 80s, then by all means jump right in.
  • If you don’t care for trivia but liked the 80s, just dip a toe in (e.g. sample the first chapter).
  • If you didn’t like the 80s and look back on the decade with disdain (because memories of big hair and pleather still haunt you), then it’s probably best to sit this one out.
  • If you don’t remember the 80s (because you weren’t born yet), then this would probably seem like an adventure. After reading, you could tell friends you almost felt like you went back into the past.
  • If you sort of remember the 80s but feel neutral about the premise of the book (like I was), then you’d probably feel neutral about it until the very end.
  • If you enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire and you’re looking for something similar, look elsewhere.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, #1) by Laurell K. Hamilton

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: September 01 to 24, 2012
Read count: 1

The writing and mystery are fine, and I like Anita Blake’s urban fantasy world. But for some reason, I have a hard time getting into this book. I like it while I’m reading, but once I put it down, I don’t feel like picking it up again. Does that make sense? Don’t know why that happens exactly. It must have something to do with the main character because I don’t find her interesting. It isn’t that big a problem though. I don’t find most main characters in UF interesting, but somehow it matters here and it got in the way of my reading of this book.

As for the writing though, it seems too simplistic and straightforward for my taste. There isn’t enough background info or mythology to pull me in. But since this is the first book of the series, I know I should go easier on it and maybe give the second book a try before writing off the whole thing off. The only reason I’m putting that off is because of Anita Blake. I just don’t like her enough to read on.

What I look for in urban fantasy is a rich world filled with monsters with some level of complexity and have some depth to them. The further the writing delves into their existence and biology, the better. I don’t really care for much of anything else, beside the monsters, to be honest. It always helps if a series has some humor and a funny main character, but that’s not necessarily a requirement. An interesting plot wouldn’t hurt, but again, not necessary. And also, the plot doesn’t necessarily have to be a murder mystery.

I will probably pick up the second Anita Blake book, mostly because I’ve heard the writing gets better. But then I also heard it gets worse after a certain point–around book #8? And people tell the latest books are all sex (maybe?) and not enough mystery. So I will probably not make it past book #5. We’ll see how it goes.

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1) by E. L. James

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Rating: (abandoned)
Date read: September, 2012
Read count:

There’s bad fanfiction, there’s awful fanfiction, and then there’s whatever this is supposed to be.

On the other hand, it’s almost as if this book was written to be read aloud by uninvited drunk dinner party guests.

I think an audiobook set that’s narrated by Gilbert Gottfried and George “OH, MYYYY” Takei (for the inner goddess monologues) would be a huge hit with the internet crowd.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Napalm and Silly Putty by George Carlin

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 20 to August 27, 2012
Read count: 1

There were quite a few interesting commentaries, but overall, the book wasn’t as funny or sharp as I had been expecting. I expected it to be more like Carlin’s stand-up routines, except in writing form. Many of the jokes in the book are better/funnier when told as part of a stand-up. Many of the sets suffered from the transition from performance to the page.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Naked in Death (In Death, #1) by J. D. Robb

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 01 to 07, 2012
Read count: 1

With “naked” in the title, how could anyone resist…?

I’d heard about this series for the longest time, always accompanied by mixed reviews, from many people. One of the reasons I’d put off starting it was because I didn’t–still don’t–particularly like Nora Roberts’ books.

But this book isn’t like her usual books. It’s darker, grimmer, and more violent. All the things that might appeal to a wider readership. I think she was going for a noir-ish tone set in a semi-futuristic world. Although the tone works well with the mystery, the “futuristic” setting is underdeveloped and incomplete. There aren’t enough futuristic details to make the reader feel immersed in the futuristic world.

Roberts/Robb adopts a different, somewhat minimal writing style for this series and puts the mystery as the focus, instead of the romantic relationship, which I prefer much more than her usual style and I hope she continues doing this, if only for this series.

Overall, this first installment is an interesting take on mystery and interpersonal relationships. But it tries too hard to incorporate violence, malice, blood, and open gunshot wounds. Maybe tone it down a little would make the story more believable.

Original review can be found here.

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Glory in Death (In Death #2)
Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 07 to 13, 2012
Read count: 1

Immortal in Death (In Death, #3)
Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 13 to 19, 2012
Read count: 1