Friday, December 28, 2012

Book review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

I loved this book. I really did.

The story is told in letters between Juliet and her friends (and a few writers who aren't friends at all). Apparently the book was suuuper popular a couple years back, but I never heard of it. I think I just found it in my Goodreads recommendations.

Bad reviews on Goodreads say it is nice, cute, and hokey-ish. Some accuse the authors of not being good writers. I'll admit, it is the kind of story that (mostly) wraps up in the end with a nice pretty bow. And it's somewhat predictable.

But there were three things I really loved about this book:

ONE. Like The Book Thief, this book showed WWII from a perspective I'd never seen before. This one is after the war and in the homes of a country occupied by German soldiers. It showed how  people who weren't Jewish/homosexual/otherthingstheNazishated people. While we're all familiar(ish) with the story of concentration camps and hiding from the Nazis, I'm not so familiar with the everyday lives of those left behind. I loved learning about the occupation, about families sending their kids to the mainland to live with families where there was no occupation, about when an islander fell in love with a German soldier and what that meant for her. I want to/need to investigate the historical accuracy of some of the things mentioned, but if they really happened... wow.

TWO. This book had beautiful language and wonderful characters. I will have to reread it (and actually read it as opposed to listening to it) because there were some lovely phrases I'd like to have written down somewhere. The characters were endearing and funny and sweet and quirky and they were people I'd like to know in real life. I definitely wished for good things for the characters, and you know that means I connected with them.

THREE. It reminded me of old-school romances, like those of Jane Austen. But easier to read and perhaps more well done. All the characters were very proper and it was easy to imagine it took place in that time frame rather than after WWII.

All in all I gave it four stars. (initially it had five, but I'm trying to be more reserved with my five-star stamp of approval)

Have any of you read this book? What did you think of it? I could never remember the name of it to tell anyone what I was reading! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book review: Imaginary Girls

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

Real talk: I didn't like this book.

But I finished it.

Why did I do that?

I think, similar to The Maze Runner (reviewed here), the mystery of it hooked me.

There were a few things I liked. (And I hate giving an entirely negative review.)

ONE. The author does a great job with details. Really. The details create an eerie quality essential to the book. Things like the feel of the reservoir when it floods its banks, when Chloe discovers an inhuman talent of another character... It's surreal and creepy and gives the book a haunting mood that made me not want to give up.

TWO. There are some really great characters. I love Pete -- a guy hopelessly in love with Ruby even though she barely gives him the time of day, who you can relate to someone in your life. And just the lives of the young people -- London's friends mostly -- and the way they relate to each other seemed very realistic to me. Hanging out on the green or in a graveyard because where else are teenagers supposed to go to be free from parental inspection?

Things that bothered me included:

ONE. There is a HUGE mystery (which I'll not reveal here because maybe you still want to read it and maybe you'll love it because lots of people on Goodreads do). And one of the things that bothers me most is that Chloe, the main character, doesn't really seem to care. It doesn't bother her at all. She's content just going around buyin sunglasses and eatin popsicles as if something insane and impossible isn't happening.

TWO. Also: Ruby sucks. Chloe looks up to her and always talks about how Ruby is the only one who cares about her and would do anything for her. But from my point of view, Ruby only cares about herself, and the qualities Chloe admires are that Ruby can get people to do what she wants them to and that she's beautiful. So I didn't believe Chloe's admiration or gratefulness, and I wished the author would give us a little more to buy into.

THREE. Oh, and the Ruby is pretty and can get anyone to do anything she wants? Yeah, you really, really get beat over the head with that message. Apparently this is very important and the author did not want us to admit it. Which is ironic because...

FOUR. I needed the author to come out and tell me a lot of things that she just hinted at instead. I felt like I was missing parts of the book, or that I should know something I didn't. It was a very frustrating reading experience.

Once again, I don't know why I kept reading it, since I have no problem putting down most books if I don't enjoy them. I guess I hoped it would get less frustrating and I would get some answers. (Spoiler: I didn't.)

So I guess I'm not really recommending this book, but I am wondering if anyone out there has read it? Please don't reveal spoilers in the comments. But if you have read it, let me know because I'd love to hear your opinions!

Have any of you read this book? Or alternately, do you guys ever get sucked into books even if you hate yourself for it? 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book review: In Honor

In Honor by Jessi Kirby

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Honor receives her brother’s last letter from Iraq three days after learning that he died, and opens it the day his fellow Marines lay the flag over his casket. Its contents are a complete shock: concert tickets to see Kyra Kelly, her favorite pop star and Finn’s celebrity crush. In his letter, he jokingly charged Honor with the task of telling Kyra Kelly that he was in love with her.

Grief-stricken and determined to grant Finn’s last request, she rushes to leave immediately. But she only gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn’s best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn’t seen him in ages, thanks to a falling out between the two guys, but Rusty is much the same as Honor remembers him: arrogant, stubborn . . . and ruggedly good-looking. Neither one is what the other would ever look for in a road trip partner, but the two of them set off together, on a voyage that makes sense only because it doesn’t. Along the way, they find small and sometimes surprising ways to ease their shared loss and honor Finn--but when shocking truths are revealed at the end of the road, will either of them be able to cope with the consequences?

I've been waiting to read this one for a long time. I read and liked Kirby's Moonglass, and have heard amazing, amazing things about this book. I actually won the book in a giveaway through Goodreads and then never received it.

While Pat and I were getting ready to go home for Thanksgiving, I got the email that In Honor had come in at the library. Perfect timing! I was able to read this whole (short) book in just a few nights.

In Honor is about Honor, whose brother just died in Iraq and who sets out on a mission/quest/road trip and is accompanied by her brother Finn's former best friend Rusty. Thoughts:

1. Kirby did a wonderful job portraying grief. I thought it was so realistic. How it comes and goes. How sometimes you can remember the one you've lost happily and think of the good times and then the next moment your grief hits you like a bowling ball to the stomach. And also the guilt you feel when you realize you've been happy for a few minutes when you should have been grieving.

2. I loved how nature was such a part of Honor's grieving process. She watches the stars and the sunrise and climbs into mountains and has a lot of time for introspection.

3. In my review of Moonglass, I mentioned that I think Kirby's biggest strength is her ability to write great characters. I think that holds true for In Honor, too. I loved Rusty and Honor, the two main characters, but once again, the people who most stick out to me are the minor characters, like Rusty's mom's boyfriend Bru, who I loved. Also his mom, who was wonderful, and a boy Honor meets serendipitously at a campsite during the roadtrip. I love how Kirby uses "minor" characters to bring about change in the main characters -- because I don't know about you, but I know some of the most random people in my life have caused huge changes to who I am, have made me think the most, and sometimes have changed the entire trajectory of my life.

4. Okay, I have to say it: The book is kind of predictable. Some things, you know they're coming probably as soon as you read that description above. And also, some things that happen are just too convenient and probably wouldn't have worked out so easily in real life. But there are lots of small moments and characters along the way that make this story really beautiful and worth reading.

I gave it three stars on Goodreads. I really did like it, and it's definitely worth the read, but probably not one I'll remember forever, and I probably won't read it again unless I'm looking to write grief realistically myself. (must remember this one!)

Oh, and it's probably also worth mentioning -- Kirby reportedly based Rusty off the character Tim Riggins from the show Friday Night Lights. Just FYI. :)

Have any of you read In Honor? What did you think?


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