Thursday, May 14, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - May 2015 Edition

I didn't read as much as I'd hoped over the last month, but I'm here to share what I did manage to get through for the Show Us Your Books! link-up.

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Innocents by Cathy Coote - 248 pages

Completed on 04/25/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This is essentially a book about sex. It almost felt as though I was reading someone's diary ... A diary filled with each and every graphic detail of their sexual encounters. But don't be fooled ... This was actually a pretty well written book. (Especially considering that Cathy Coote was only 19 when she wrote it!)

Innocents is an interesting take on the forbidden student-teacher relationship trope told from a 16-year-old girl's point of view. The majority of the novel is a letter she's writing to her lover, a confession in which she admits that she was never as innocent as she allowed him to believe. As she details their time together, she reveals all the ways in which she manipulated a man more than twice her age to do everything she wanted ... Until she eventually pushed too far.

One of the things I really liked about this book was Coote's ability to write about sex in such a realistic way. Sex isn't always pretty and it isn't always amazing (particularly when you're young and just figuring it all out) ... But, because most people want to read/watch a fantasy, it's usually presented as such in novels and film. I appreciated the fact that she wasn't afraid to discuss even the ugliest moments in this fictional relationship.

I enjoyed the book, but I didn't love it. I think I wanted more from it than it actually delivered. I didn't like that the main characters were never named (though I think that's just a personal preference). I hated that he always called her "darling" and "baby" and, quite literally, babied her to the point of squick. Yes, she was underage, but she was 16 ... At times he treated her as though she were 10 (or younger). I'm sure it was intentional, an effort to point out how inappropriate their relationship was and the fact that he was a pedophile (despite his insistence that he just loved her, regardless of her age), but it was just really weird.

Additionally, some of the events in the novel were just completely unbelievable. Despite her care to write about sex and the girl's twisted manipulations of her lover in a very realistic way, Coote forced me to roll my eyes when it came to other aspects of their relationship. Without giving too much away, the main characters quickly find themselves living together with the male main character willing to give up his teaching career (and his home) for this young girl he barely knows.

And the ending? I really wanted it to end differently, and was disappointed with the way things actually played out.

I know I'm making this book sound terrible, and it really wasn't. Due to the subject matter, I'd say it's definitely not for everyone, but it kept my interest.

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May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes - 480 pages

Completed on 05/10/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This book.  Where to begin?

The first 20 or so pages were amazing, and I was immediately drawn into the novel. The main character, Harold, begins having an affair with his brother's wife. When George (the brother) finds out, he attacks her by bashing her head in with a lamp ... All while Harold lies next to her in bed.

This is the major catalyst for everything else that unfolds. In May We Be Forgiven, Harold tries to make sense of his brother's violent actions, deals with his own crumbling marriage, learns how to care for his niece and nephew, and struggles to create a better version of himself. Sounds good, right?

Well, for the most part it was. This is the second novel I've read by Homes (the other being the incredibly brilliant and disturbing The End of Alice, which I may reread at some point soon), and I really enjoy her writing. Though this book is much different from The End of Alice, it's clear she knows how to craft an interesting story. I really appreciated her use of dark humor in this novel, and some of Harold's thoughts and views on certain aspects of American life had me nodding along.

This wasn't a perfect novel, however. I wanted to like this book more than I did (mostly because I held A.M. Homes to a very high standard after reading The End of Alice), but I think sometimes I set myself up for disappointment when I have very high expectations of an author or book. (Obviously I do ... I mean, I basically said the same thing about Innocents in my review above.)

One of my biggest issues with this book was the fact that almost everything was completely over-the-top. I can suspend my disbelief while reading, but sometimes I just thought she took it too far and made it seem ridiculous. She also managed to stuff almost anything you can think of into the story and spent more time on some of these things than was probably necessary while neglecting some other, more interesting subplots. If you're wondering what I mean by "almost anything," here are a few examples of things that were included in this novel: a considerable amount of information on Richard Nixon, a detailed account of a trip to South Africa, an attempted carjacking, a bar mitzvah, a missing local girl, an inappropriate student/teacher relationship, random sexual encounters with people found online, a swingers club ... Need I go on?

Another thing that bothered me was the reliance on stereotypes for some of her characters. Some things even made me think, "Is this supposed to be racist? I can't even tell where she's trying to go with this." Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but it just really bothered me. And, judging from some of the other reviews on Goodreads (which I skimmed after finishing the book), I'm not the only one who felt this way.

Despite its flaws, May We Be Forgiven was a fairly enjoyable read. While certain parts really didn't add much to the story, there were flashes of brilliance throughout the novel ... And that was enough to keep me reading.

Next month I should (hopefully!) have more than just a couple of books to review. I think this month's personal challenge will help push me to focus more on reading, which is definitely a good thing since I'm behind on my 50 book goal for the year.

I was going to try to finish another book before posting this (I'm almost done!), but I really wanted to join the link-up before the end of this week. I'm headed to Florida on Saturday morning, and I know blogging isn't going to be my main focus once I arrive.

I'm not even sure if any posts will go up while I'm gone. I was planning to get at least one post written and scheduled, but I haven't gotten around to it ... So there's a good chance I'll just blow off blogging for a week and then pick things back up the following week. We'll see, though. I still have a little time before I leave.


  1. I might add the first! I enjoyed the second even though it felt like a marathon.

    1. I like that you called May We Be Forgiven a marathon because I kind of felt that way once it was over ... I basically felt relief and excitement because I'd gotten through it. I liked it (for the most part), but I felt like I had to wade through a few too many "obstacles" (or, you know, things that didn't add a lot to the story) in order to get to the heart of the novel.

  2. I think I'll add the second to my list although the first might be too much for me!

    1. I definitely wanted to add a warning for Innocents because I know books with explicit sex scenes aren't for everyone!