Book Review: Commonwealth

Book Review: Commonwealth

“Isn’t that what everyone wants, just for a moment to be unencumbered?”

As I mentioned in my August Favorites blog post, I recently finished reading Ann Patchett‘s novel Commonwealth, and thoroughly enjoyed the read. Today I am going to give you all a glance at what the story is about, and what I liked about it.

In a nutshell, Commonwealth is the story of an unconventional blended family, including six step siblings who form a lasting bond with each other through shared summer vacations spent at their parents and step parents’ homes, and their shared resentment towards their often negligent parents. For a book that follows the lives of so many characters (the six children, four parents, and other family members and significant others that appear throughout the story), each character is surprisingly well-developed. The more you read, the more you get to know each of these people and understand who they are and where they’ve been.

The story spans a total of five decades of time, jumping between the present and the past with each chapter, sometimes jumping within a single chapter. For some, these jumps in time may be a bit too much. I will admit I was confused at times, and it was difficult to keep each character and storyline straight in my mind. (“Wait, whose parent is this again? Who is this person married to?”) However, for me this made the story more interesting, and I enjoyed the challenge of keeping track of everything in my head. It was also fun to read about the characters as children, and then find out where their life went as an adult.

Commonwealth really picks up pace when one of the daughters, Franny, begins an affair with a well-known author, and tells him the stories from her childhood, which he proceeds to use as the inspiration for his newest bestselling novel which he names “Commonwealth.” Though he always claims the story is not based on Franny’s life, it’s clear it is, and the book has a negative impact on her siblings, mainly her youngest step brother, Albie, who learns painful things about his childhood through reading the novel.

Overall I thought Patchett’s book was a sharp and realistic portrayal of family ties and the struggles people face throughout life. Though the story is fairly realistic, it still has the level of drama and slight exaggeration needed to make an enjoyable read. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong character development and intriguing life stories, as well as books that span multiple decades of time.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or any of Ann Patchett’s other novels. If not, what was the last book you read and loved?

Book Review: Before The Fall

Book Review: Before The Fall

“To try to predict the places we’ll go and the people we’ll meet would be pointless.”

Reading has become a big part of my life, and I’m so happy I get to share my thoughts on the books I read with all of you! As I write this I am almost finished with another book, so expect yet another book review sometime in the next month.

Today’s review is on Noah Hawley’s suspense novel Before The FallIf you haven’t noticed already, my book reviews tend to be less plot-focused and more general thoughts about the book. So if you’re looking to learn more about the plot, I found this New York Times review by Janet Maslin which I would recommend reading (before or after coming back to my review, of course).

Not only is Hawley an author, but he is also a TV producer/writer (best known for creating the award-winning show Fargo). As I read this book, I could definitely see elements of a TV script in his writing. He added a lot of details and descriptions of the characters, which helped them come to life on the page the way I’m sure he has to do when creating characters for the screen. I’m a sucker for good character development, so this caught my attention right away.

Another element of the novel that I liked was that each chapter switched perspective, giving you a look inside the mind of all of the main characters, similar to the way Paula Hawkins wrote The Girl On The Train. I always enjoy novels that are set up like this, because I like to get to know all of the characters instead of being stuck hearing the story from only one point of view. I also think it works well with mystery/suspense stories, unveiling pieces of the puzzle from different angles.

The one part of the novel that was a bit disappointing to me was the ending. It felt rushed and abrupt, and I didn’t feel satisfied the way I did at the end of The Girl On The Train. Like I said, Hawley adds a lot of details into the novel, and when I reached the end I realized many of the details hadn’t been relevant to the conclusion. I know this is a typical ploy to throw off the reader and ensure the ending can’t be easily guessed, but I was left wishing there had been more essential details to explain the ending.

Overall this was a well written and entertaining read, and it kept my interest the whole way through. If you like stories that include a lot of character detail and plenty of mystery, you will enjoy this book! Like I said, the ending wasn’t my favorite, but it is still well worth the read.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, and if you agree or disagree about the ending. Have you read any of Hawley’s other novels? If not, what is the last book you read?

Book Review: I Am Malala

Book Review: I Am Malala

“It was as though they wanted to remove all traces of womankind from public life.”

I’m back with another book review! Like I mentioned in my last review, I joined a book club. I’m excited to share my thoughts on our first book with you: I am Malala. 

I am Malala is a memoir written by a young girl named Malala, who grew up in Pakistan. She tells her experience fighting for the right to get an education, which ultimately lead to her being shot by the Taliban. The book includes a lot about the history of Pakistan, as well as Malala’s own family history and details about the Islamic faith. I enjoyed learning more about a culture that I didn’t previously know much about. It was definitely eye-opening to read about the struggles young girls and women face in other parts of the world.

Despite the many cultural differences I saw between the United States and Pakistan, I was surprised by how many similarities there were. For example, Malala mentioned the book series Twilight, which caught me off guard because I would have never thought girls in Pakistan were reading Twilight just like American girls. A quote that I loved was when she said “sometimes I think it’s easier to be a Twilight vampire than a girl in Swat.”

One of the most moving aspects of the book was Malala’s relationship with her father. Though she is close with everyone in her family, her bond with her father was really special to read about. They appear to be very similar in many ways, most notably their passion for women’s rights. Malala began campaigning for women’s rights alongside her father, and it was evident how proud he was of her, especially when he declared in one of his speeches, “In my part of the world most people are known by their sons. I am one of the few lucky fathers known by his daughter.”

Malala’s pure bravery was another thing that stood out to me in this book. Even when it was known that she was being targeted by the Taliban and could very well be in real danger, she claimed to not feel scared and she continued to fight for what she believed in. She said,”My feeling was nobody can stop death; it doesn’t matter if it comes from a [member of the Taliban] or cancer. So I should do what I want to do.”

I will admit this book can be a bit dull and difficult to get through at times, especially when she goes into detail about the history of her country and her family. However, it was worth it to me because I really learned a lot and I feel like I gained a better understanding of another culture, which I always find beneficial. I would definitely recommend reading this book if you like true stories, and if you are looking for something semi-educational but still interesting to read!

Let me know in the comments if you have read this book, and what you thought! If you haven’t read it, let me know what the last book you read was.

 

 

Book Review: It Gets Worse

Book Review: It Gets Worse

“The problems you have as a kid will seem ridiculous when you get older because bigger and worse problems will come along. But you will learn to deal with them easier as you grow up.”

Welcome to another book review! It’s been a while since my last one, but I actually just joined a book club, so that should help keep me on track with reading more often. Right now we are reading I am Malala, which is quite different than the book I will be reviewing for you all today. But the one element that connects the two is that they are both non-fiction.

Shane Dawson is someone that I have been familiar with for a while from watching his YouTube videos. His humor is outrageous and extremely self-depricating, so I knew his book would at least be entertaining.

It turned out to be much more than simply entertaining. I thought he did a great job of having a good mix of humor and seriousness. He covered some heavy topics such as his past eating disorder and his grandma passing away, and somehow managed to have me laughing in one sentence and covering my mouth in horror in the next. He has an understanding of the fact that even the most serious of topics have a grain of humor buried within them, and he tactfully extracts that humor at just the right moments.

His book was also extremely inspirational, which was something I didn’t necessarily expect. In one of my favorite chapters in the book, Human Trash, Shane tells a story about making a film for his class in high school, and how his teacher freaked out and turned off the film halfway through, saying it was terrible and that he was disappointed in Shane for making something so awful. Even at that age, Shane already knew he wanted to be a filmmaker, and the teacher’s harsh words really hurt him.  However, there was someone who disagreed with the teacher’s critique. The school principal saw the movie and called Shane into his office, and he had this to say:

“Shane, throughout your life some people aren’t going to get what you do. They won’t open their eyes to see the potential you have and see all the greatness you have in that head of yours. But there will also be people who do. People that get you. And I’m one of them.”

Shane says this conversation has stuck with him ever since. I think it’s so awesome that the principal not only understood him, but took the time to make sure he got the reassurance he needed to keep reaching for his dreams.

One of my other favorite chapters was the very last one, which was written by Shane’s mother. He writes that she always wanted to be an author, but was never able to follow through on that dream since she was a busy single mother. Shane chose to give his mom the gift of officially becoming a published author by letting her write the final chapter in his book. She wrote about the first time she saw him perform in a school play, and how the audience loved him and gave him a standing ovation. She said she had a feeling that night that in the future he would be impacting millions of people, not just one theater. And he certainly has, with more than 16 million total subscribers across his YouTube channels!

Overall I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a good laugh (particularly if you don’t mind crude, irreverent humor), and who enjoys reading personal, true stories. Even if you’ve never heard of Shane Dawson, you will still enjoy reading it. He is honest and hilarious, and the book is a quick read that will have you both laughing and close to tears.

Hope you enjoyed my book review! Leave a comment below if you’ve read the book, or just let me know what the last book you read was.

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

It’s been a while since my last book review because unfortunately I haven’t had much time for reading lately. But the past few weekends I was able to pick up this book again and finish it, so I wanted to take the time to write a quick review for you all!

An Abundance of Katherine is one of John Green’s books (the author of The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska and Paper Town) and to be honest, I didn’t like it quite as much as those three. It’s not that I disliked it, I just didn’t find myself quite as captivated as I was with his other novels. Because of that, I thought it would be fun to write a pros and cons list about the book, so you can get a feel for what I did and didn’t enjoy about it.

Pros:
  1. The characters are very detailed, vivid and well thought-out. I could picture all of them clearly, and they each had their own unique style of dialogue. I definitely think that is something that John Green excels at: building strong characters that we can relate to and feel like we know personally.
  2. The book had a very unique element to it, which was that the main character was a “genius” or “child prodigy”. He had an obsession with being important and being well-known for something in life. He essentially wanted to become famous for inventing a theorem to predict the outcome of a romantic relationship. So the book had a lot of math and science in it, which I surprisingly enjoyed despite the fact that I was terrible at both of those subjects in school.
Cons:
  1. Not much happened in the plot. Now, I’m not the type of person that needs an extremely action-packed plot, but I do like for there to be some sort of adventure at some point, like when Hazel and Gus traveled to Amsterdam in TFIOS. I felt that’s one of the elements this book was lacking.
  2. Though the main characters were brilliant, as I mentioned above, I did feel that there could have been a few more supporting players in the story. There were a few minor characters, but they never felt fully flushed out to me. I think John Green could have given a bit more detail about some of them, and maybe even added in a few other characters to the mix.

I know this didn’t give a plot summary at all, and you’re probably thinking “but what is the book even about?” I just wanted to do something different with this review. If you’d like to read more about the actual story, you can check out this book review.

Leave a comment below letting me know if you’ve read this book, or any of John Green’s other books. I’d also love to hear any suggestions you have for the next book I should read! You can take a look at my past book reviews to get an idea of the kind of novels I enjoy.

Book Review: The Girl On The Train

Book Review: The Girl On The Train

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I’m back with a much-overdue book review! If you read my October Favorites blog, you’ll know the I loved the book The Girl on the Train, and have been planning on writing a review of it since, well, October. So without further adieu, let’s jump right in!

“I have lost control over everything. Even the places in my head.”

The story follows a thirty-something named Rachel, who leads a rather depressing lifestyle that is hugely made up of lying to her roommate, drinking excessively, and crossing boundaries with her ex husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna. As a form of escape, she obsesses over watching a certain couple every morning as she passes their house on the train. She thinks they look like the perfect couple, and invents an entire backstory and life for them, complete with what their names would be and what careers they have.

This alternate reality is shattered when the woman, who turns out to be named Megan, goes missing. Rachel feels somehow drawn to the mystery and feels like she needs to find out what happened, even though in actuality she has no real tie to the couple. The book is a suspense thriller, and you are taken along for a ride as Rachel and other characters try to figure out the mystery.

The two main aspects that I enjoyed the most about this book were the changes in perspective and the changes in time. Basically the majority of the chapters were from Rachel’s perspective, but Paula Hawkins also threw in chapters from Megan and Anna’s perspectives as well, which only added to the confusion and suspense in the plot. Also, each chapter jumped around in time, making it even more difficult to decipher what was happening.

If you’re the type of person who loves books that really make you think and keep you on your toes the entire way through, then you are sure to be entertained by this book! It’s actually being made into a movie with an awesome cast, and I can’t wait to see how that turns out. I think it has great potential to be a very gripping movie if done correctly. Think Gone Girl.

If you want another opinion on the book, I really enjoyed Janet Maslin’s New York Times review. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever read this book and what you thought, or if you’ve read another good book lately that you’d recommend! I’m always on the hunt for new books to read.

Book Review: Yes Please

Book Review: Yes Please

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“I think we should stop asking people in their 20s what they ‘want to do’ and start asking them what they don’t want to do. Instead of asking students to ‘declare their major’ we should ask students to ‘list what they will do anything to avoid.’ It just makes a lot more sense.”

Hey everyone! Today’s blog post is a book review of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. If I wasn’t already, I can now say in full confidence that I am a huge fan of Amy. And by huge fan I mean I want to become her best friend and am plotting a way to make that happen ASAP. (Please leave suggestions for how to make this happen in the comments). In order to avoid writing an entire book of my own, I have chosen three specific parts or passages to tell you all about. Hope you enjoy!

Amy begins the book by explaining how difficult it is to write a book. The first sentence of the book is: “I like hard work and I don’t like pretending things are perfect.” I loved this quote because I thought it captured the essence of what a lot of celebrities seem to lack: authenticity. Many celebrity authors make it look easy, as if they just sat down one day and hammered out the entire book while sipping on a cocktail and staring at the sunset rising over a beach. But not Amy. She flat out tells us it was hard, she wanted to give up many times, and she frequently hit road blocks. I think this first chapter really sets the scene for the book and tells the reader that what they are about to read contains 0% B.S.

One of my favorite parts is when Amy explains the difference between career and creativity, using the metaphors of a bad boyfriend and a good boyfriend, respectively. She says that you should practice the art of ambivalence when it comes to your career, and let go of wanting it so bad. “Your career won’t take care of you. It won’t call you back or introduce you to its parents. Your career will openly flirt with other people while you’re around.” In contrast, she says that creativity is: “…connected to your passions, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love.” I really liked this analogy because, as you may have seen in my last blog post, I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself to find the “perfect job.” And thanks to Amy, I have come to realize that your career is not the most important thing in life, and it will never make you truly happy the way creativity will.

The final part that I want to talk about is towards the end of the book, when Amy describes her theory about time travel. And no, it has nothing to do with Back to the Future. She believes that you can travel in time with people, places and things. You can achieve this by living in the moment and paying attention to the little things in life. She goes on to tell three stories, each one corresponding to one of the three types of time travel. She writes about a piano that was at her grandparent’s house growing up, and how it now sits in her home and is played by her two boys, reminding her of her grandparents and allowing her to travel back to the times that she played it in her grandparent’s house as a child. I loved this concept and I think that it is something we should all take the time to think about. Slow down and appreciate each moment of each day, because you never know what could end up being a precious memory when you’re older.

I know that wasn’t exactly a clear recounting of what the book was about or what to expect from it, but I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my favorite parts. And who knows, maybe I sparked your interest enough to get you to go out and buy the book! I promise you won’t be disappointed.