Book Review: Killing Kennedy

August 10, 2013 Books to Read, History, Nonfiction 0

Killing KennedyKilling Kennedy: The End of Camelot
by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Nonfiction – History (Released September, 2011)
Bottom Line: Read it if you haven’t read much about the Kennedy assassination…otherwise, skip it.
Summary: The story of the events leading up to and following the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald.
My Thoughts: 
This is a hard review for me because, if I hadn’t read much about the JFK assassination prior to reading this book, I would have loved it. It’s a fantastic, short, readable overview of an event that has received so much coverage already – i.e. it’s a great primer for someone who hasn’t read much about the Kennedys or the assassination. However, I have read a fair amount about the Kennedys and the assassination and wasn’t bowled over by “new” information in this book. O’Reilly structured the book by interspersing scenes of what Kennedy was doing leading up to the assassination with what Oswald and other Kennedy enemies (i.e. Sam Giancana and the Mafia, Khrushchev and the Soviets, Castro, and Hoover and the CIA) were doing – thereby setting up all the conspiracy theory angles that would later dominate the national discussion. However, I was disappointed that O’Reilly didn’t delve more deeply into the conspiracy theories, which was what I was looking for going into the book. I also wish he had focused more on Oswald’s movements and mentality leading up to the murder – I actually learned more about Oswald from Stephen King’s historical fiction novel, 11/22/63. All that being said, Killing Kennedy made me want to read O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln because I don’t know much about that event and a short, readable overview is exactly what I need.

Book Review: The Silver Star

August 7, 2013 Books to Skip, Fiction 1

Silver StarThe Silver Star: A Novel
by Jeanette Walls, Fiction
(Released June, 2013)

Bottom Line: Skip it.
When their eccentric mother (Charlotte) runs out on them yet again, twelve year old “Bean” and fifteen year old Liz Holladay flee California for their Uncle Tinsley’s rundown family mansion in Virginia.
My Thoughts: I loved The Glass Castle, Walls’ memoir about growing up in her eccentric family, so I was excited to hear she was writing her first fiction novel. Sadly, The Silver Star is no Glass Castle. This one is actually a bit hard to write about because it was so middle of the road – I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. It’s much easier to write about a book that I have strong feelings about one way or the other! The story was a bit slow and obvious, and, after a strong start, it went downhill. The first two paragraphs made me stop and say “wow”…I was simultaneously horrified and impressed in an “OK, you win the ‘listen to the horrible thing I did to my kid today’ contest” kind of way. Then, I laughed because I could totally see myself doing what Charlotte Holladay did amidst frantically loading kids into the car. Charlotte is a total flake (as the first two paragraphs so perfectly illustrate) and her oldest daughter (Liz) is the mature voice of reason – somewhat like the dynamic between Bernadette and her daughter, Bee, in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?. “Bean”, the twelve year old, is a cute character, but weirdly seems so much younger than she is. She talks more like an eight year old and plays games that I would think a thirteen year old wouldn’t find interesting anymore (i.e. she likes Cheetos because “they come in all sorts of different shapes, so you could have fun trying to figure out what each one looks like”). The first part of the book focuses more on Charlotte’s eccentric parenting and how Liz and Bean fend for themselves to get by. To me, this was the best part, probably because it is Walls’ bread and butter topic. Once Bean and Liz arrive at Uncle Tinsley’s in Virginia, the story gets a bit more of a real plot, but becomes far less entertaining reading. Bean and Liz get mixed up with a shady character in town, but the plot “twists” that come along with this are completely unsurprising. I think Walls used much too obvious foreshadowing, because I could pinpoint the one sentence that more or less gave away what was going to happen in each plot string. Plus, the characters were too black and white – there was no question who the “good guys” and “bad guys” were. I still really enjoyed Walls’ writing, I just think the story and plot lacked in this book.

Book Review: In One Person

August 6, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction 0

In One PersonIn One Person: A Novel
by John Irving, Fiction (Released May, 2012)
Bottom Line: Read it.

Summary: Starting in an all-boys school in 1960′s Vermont and spanning 50 years, Billy Abbott encounters multiple interesting characters through his experience with his “sexual differences” and “crushes on the wrong people”.
My Thoughts: 
I was so excited to read Irving’s latest – and it didn’t disappoint! Though In One Person‘s topic is similar to Until I Find You, I thought In One Person was far better. Irving writes about a heavy subject with humor and includes a cast of characters that are eccentric, entertaining, and lovable. Irving’s use of italics brings the characters’ dialogue to life – often with hilarious result – you can just hear these people talking as you read. In One Person manages to be funny, sad, heartwarming, strange, surprising, and inevitable all at once. This one is on my Book Club Recommendations List.

Book Review: Revenge Wears Prada

August 4, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Something Light 0

Revenge Wears PradaRevenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns
by Lauren Weisberger, Fiction (Released June, 2013)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: In the sequel to The Devil Wears Prada, Andy Sachs (who still shudders to hear Miranda Priestly’s name even ten years later) teams up with her former Runway nemesis, First Assistant Emily, to start a high-end bridal magazine and, of course, encounters Miranda along the way.
My Thoughts: I loved The Devil Wears Prada, so I was disappointed to read that its sequel had gotten such mixed reviews. The mixed reviews obviously didn’t stop me from reading the book, but I did go in with fairly low expectations. Imagine my surprise when I stayed up late reading a quarter of the book the first night I started it! I had just read a serious book (In the Shadow of the Banyan), so I found Revenge a refreshingly light and entertaining contrast. It was an easy read following Banyan, which was exactly what I needed! Initially, a lot of Revenge is Andy rehashing memories of her time with Miranda and these snarky descriptions are what made the original Devil so good. This time around, the Miranda memories do feel a bit warmed over, but are probably necessary to set the stage. In Revenge, Andy and Emily end up on the receiving end of the charming version of Miranda (the version most celebrities saw in Devil). It was interesting to see the  juxtaposition of how she treats people she wants something from versus how she treats her underlings. You can feel her transform between personalities right before your eyes and then back again in seconds. I also enjoyed the secondary storyline of Andy’s marriage to Max Harrison, the son of a media scion, and found her stuck-up snob of a mother-in-law to be a somewhat amusing character. Even though she was dislikable, she added some humorous ridiculousness to the story. Despite enjoying the book and flying through it, I hated the ending, and that seems to be the consensus among other reviewers. It couldn’t have been more cliche and you could see it coming a mile away. Actually, there were a lot of cliche moments in this book and I rolled my eyes at some parts. But, I have to go on overall feeling while reading a book and I enjoyed this one for what it was…something light, easy, and not thought provoking. Sometimes you just need a book like that. I’m putting Revenge on my Summer 2013 Reading List.

Book Review: I Suck at Girls

August 3, 2013 Books to Skip, Memoirs, Nonfiction 0

I Suck at GirlsI Suck at Girls
by Justin Halpern, Nonfiction – Memoir (Released May, 2012)
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Summary: In his second book, Halpern shares stories about his experiences with girls from elementary school through his engagement (and, of course, his Dad’s commentary along the way).
My Thoughts: Halpern’s first book, Sh*t My Dad Says, was hilarious, mostly because his Dad is hilarious. His Dad is witty in a salty way, but actually does share insightful advice. Unfortunately, Halpern’s Dad plays a much smaller role in this book, highlighting the fact that his books’ success directly correlates to the amount of dialogue with Dad that he decides to include. If you like salty humor, definitely read Sh*t My Dad Says, but don’t bother with this one.

Book Review: HHhH

August 2, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Historical Fiction 0

HHhHHHhH: A Novel
by Laurent Binet, Historical Fiction (Released April, 2012)
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re into WWII history.
Summary: A “technically fiction” novel about the true story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the “Butcher of Prague” and one of Hitler’s top bureaucrats in the Third Reich.
My Thoughts: This novel is historically accurate (at least according to the reviews)…to the point where Binet interrupts the story to tell you where he’s missing details or has made something up. I liked knowing which parts were accurate, as I always wonder about that when I read historical fiction. However, Binet interjects too often about his experience writing the book, and I was annoyed when his tangents took him away from the historical accuracy angle. The most fascinating parts of the book for me were about Heydrich’s background and personality, internal Nazi politics, and the occupation of Czechoslovakia. Luckily, Binet spent far more time on those topics than on the assassination itself. If you can get past Binet’s interjections, HHhH is a fascinating look at Nazi personalities and what it was like in an occupied territory during WWII.

Book Review: Gone Girl

August 1, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers 0

Gone GirlGone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
Released June, 2012
434 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary

Following the disappearance of his wife, Amy, Nick Dunne faces questions about his marriage from the police, the public, the media, and, most importantly, from himself.

My Thoughts

This book is a psychological thriller that reads like chick lit (in a good way). The story is utterly horrifying and I couldn’t put it down. The main characters are smart, witty, and clever – for better and for worse. The story turns on its head at multiple points – I said “holy sh*t” out loud more than once because I was caught completely off guard. But, similar to the scene with the coffee mug at the end of The Usual Suspects, once the truth reveals itself, all the little details fall into place. I don’t want to say too much more about it because enjoying the unexpected twists are key to this book. Gone Girl is on my Page Turners and Book Club Recommendations lists.

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Banyan

July 27, 2013 Books to Skip, Fiction, Historical Fiction 0

In the Shadow of the Banyan was the selection for my Book Club’s July meeting. 

In the Shadow of the BanyanIn the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel
by Vaddey Ratner, Historical Fiction (Released August, 2012)

Bottom Line: Skip it.
Summary: Seven year old Raami and her family face the horrors of the Khmer Rouge’s occupation of Cambodia in the late 1970’s.
My Thoughts: As you can probably guess by the summary, this is a serious book. It’s based on the author and her family’s real experience as minor royals during the Cambodian occupation, including being forced to leave their home in Phnom Penh by Khmer Rouge soldiers, to labor in the rice fields, and to separate from extended family members. I had a very hard time getting into this book. Though the second half is better than the first, it still didn’t really make an impression on me. The beginning of the book focuses on Raami’s family life as Cambodian royals – talking lots about their lifestyle, food, customs, and storytelling. It did a pretty mediocre job of setting the stage for the occupation as the predominant theme of the book and I was somewhat confused about what the war/occupation was truly about. The occupation is also initially described almost as a list of different atrocities the family witnesses out of a car window. The atrocities are described in such little detail that I didn’t have a chance to get emotionally involved or feel too deeply. The characters in the first part of the book (mostly family members and their servants) also failed to touch me emotionally…they felt like no more than names with designated roles to me, with no real personalities. Finally, there is a huge focus on legend-like stories and “tevodas” (godlike mythical beings) that Raami’s dad passes down to her, but I found them confusing and irrelevant to the real story of the family’s experience during the occupation. The second half of the book is better – it focuses more on the occupation and less on the family and its storytelling. Even so, the second half still didn’t come alive for me emotionally like many of the other war/occupation books I’ve read. All this being said, I really liked the Author’s Note at the end of the book about her real experience…it was better than the actual book! It clearly outlined what the Khmer Rouge occupation was truly about and made me actually feel the severity of the situation, something the actual book never really accomplished. Ratner probably should have made it a Prologue instead – it would have set the stage for the story and fixed the problem of wondering what the heck you were reading about in the beginning. Or, taking it a step further, maybe she should have just written a straight-up memoir! This is clearly a book that is suppose to move the reader and touch him/her emotionally and it just completely failed to do that for me, although I do appreciate what Ratner went through as a child.

Book Review: Fall of Giants

July 25, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Historical Fiction 0

Fall of GiantsFall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy
by Ken Follett, Historical Fiction (Released September, 2010)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Five families’ (one Russian, one Welsh, one British, one German, and one American) personal and professional lives are uprooted through World War I and the Russian Revolution.
My Thoughts: If you liked The Pillars of Earth and World Without End, you will love Fall of Giants. But, the topic and time period of Fall of Giants should appeal to an even broader audience. Follett combines historical accuracy with enticing characters and personal stories – making his books a fun way to learn history! I loved learning about the diplomatic dance between superpowers in the lead-up to WWI and seeing a variety of perspectives on the war (5 different countries, various political views, and different social classes). Focusing on the homefront enriches the characters and makes this far more than just a “war” book. At 1,000 pages, Fall of Giants is going on my Time to Kill List.

Book Review: Don’t Put Me In, Coach

July 23, 2013 Books to Skip, Nonfiction, Sports 0

Dont Put Me In CoachDon’t Put Me In, Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench
by Mark Titus, Nonfiction – Sports (Released March, 2012)
Bottom Line: Skip it.
 Titus chronicles his experience as a bench-rider on the Ohio State men’s basketball teams starring Greg Oden and Evan Turner.
My Thoughts: Titus is sort of amusing (but not hilarious) as he makes light of his experience in NCAA basketball and as the comic relief in the locker room. There are a few decent anecdotes about Oden and Turner, but far too many stories about Titus needing to visit the men’s room during the critical moments of games.