Sunday, August 14, 2016

Recently Read: In-Depth Reviews - August 2016 Edition

I was really hoping to get a lot of blog related stuff done this weekend since I didn't have any major plans, but, if I'm being totally honest, laziness took over. Things were particularly busy/exhausting at work last week, so I needed to come home and basically shut my brain off most evenings. And, unfortunately, this has spilled over into the weekend. It happens.

As promised on Tuesday, today I'm sharing more in-depth reviews of the books I've read recently. Thankfully I wrote these reviews as I finished the books ... Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have the motivation to get this up today!

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The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - 243 pages

Completed on 07/14/2016

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The Virgin Suicides has been on my radar for years, but, for whatever reason, it took choosing it for one of the categories in the Semi-Charmed Summer 2016 Book Challenge to get me to finally pick it up.

I read Middlesex (also by Eugenides) three or four years ago. It's a long novel, but I remember really enjoying it and thinking that Eugenides was an extremely talented writer. At just under 250 pages, The Virgin Suicides is less than half as long as Middlesex, but the story is still powerful, the writing still beautiful.

One of my favorite things about this book is the fact that it's told from an outside perspective. The narrator is (as far as I can remember) never named, but he tells the tragic story of the Lisbon sisters the way he and his friends, all boys from the Lisbon's neighborhood, remember it, attempting to make sense of what happened. This point of view is unique, especially since he speaks for all of the boys: "we" felt this, "we" thought this, etc.

I'll admit that there were times when I wished Eugenides had written the story from the inside. Readers are given a glimpse into Cecilia's mind when the boys manage to snag her journal, but overall the Lisbon girls remain a mystery. There's no question that their home life is stifling, their parents so strict that they're barely given room to breathe ... But I was left wondering what actually pushed each of the girls over the edge. (Especially Cecilia, who dies a year before the rest of her sisters follow suit.)

But, honestly, I think that was the point. By telling the story from this perspective, Eugenides is asking his readers to draw their own conclusions. And, like the narrator and his friends, we're left only with fragments of knowledge regarding the events that ultimately led to the suicides.

As you can probably tell from my 4 star rating, I really enjoyed this book. My only real issue wasn't with the book itself (not really), but with the fact that I've seen the movie several times (I even own it!) and the movie and book are nearly identical.

I feel silly even commenting on the book/movie similarities, since I usually appreciate when a film adaptation stays very true to the book, but this was so similar that I sometimes didn't even feel like finishing the book. I felt like I already knew exactly what would happen, so why bother?

Sometimes I like reading a book after I've seen the movie because I think it gives me added perspective. Most movies can't include everything in a book, so it's nice to get more of the story. I didn't get that here. The movie narration and dialogue is literally word for word in most cases. I could easily visualize each scene from the movie as I was reading the book because it felt like I was reading the screenplay: they were that much alike. (And, for the record, I haven't watched the movie in several years ... So it's not like I rewatched it right before reading the book or anything.)

Like I said, I feel kind of silly even mentioning that, especially since I still managed to appreciate the book ... But it did slow my reading down a lot. (Enough that I definitely noticed it!) I wouldn't say I was really bored, but I didn't look forward to picking it up as much as I probably would have if I'd never seen the movie.

The Virgins by Pamela Erens - 281 pages

Completed on 07/21/2016

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As many of you who are participating in the Semi-Charmed Summer 2016 Book Challenge may have guessed by the similar titles, The Virgin Suicides and The Virgins were my picks for the "Two Books Containing The Same Word In The Title, One Singular And One Plural" category.

Since I chose the word "virgin" to focus on, I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that these two novels had many similarities. Don't get me wrong ... Both books were wonderful and not at all carbon copies of one another. But there definitely a lot of things these books shared.

Both novels were set in the 1970s. Both novels were coming of age stories. Both novels were narrated by an outsider with very little knowledge about the person/people he obsessed over. Both novels were told after the fact: the events in the story have simply been pieced together through memories and conversations with others. Both novels touched on many similar themes, most notably (and probably most obviously) the loss of innocence/childhood. And, finally, both novels were beautifully written.

As I mentioned above, The Virgins is narrated by an outsider. Unlike the narrator in The Virgin Suicides, this narrator is given a name (Bruce Bennett-Jones). Readers are also given quite a bit of insight into Bruce's life, which really helped me understand his obsession with the relationship between Aviva and Seung. And, although he was technically an outsider in this story, he played a vital role in the way some of the events of the novel played out ... So it was interesting to hear things from his perspective. (Though, judging from his character, he wasn't exactly the most reliable narrator.)

The Virgins was an interesting read for me because it reminded me so much of what it was like to be in high school (and even college). Although the book was set at a boarding school in the Northeast (and I definitely didn't go to a school like that!), a lot of things were still very relatable. The buzzing hormones, the general discomfort and confusion when romantic and/or sexual encounters don't exactly go as planned, the need to please your parents while trying to carve out your own place in the world, the desire to discover yourself and what you want out of life, the curiosity that often surrounds inseparable young couples, etc. I loved that Erens tackled all of these elements of youth (and more), and created a beautiful and fascinating story.

I found The Virgins gripping and, ultimately, a little sad. It's a complex emotional rollercoaster of a story that earned a solid 4 star rating from me.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi - 325 pages

Completed on 07/24/2016

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I feel like I need to begin this review with this statement: I'm not a huge fan of short stories. I know I've mentioned this on my blog in the past, but I feel like I'm usually not able to really connect with them. I can enjoy and appreciate a well-written short story, but there are very few I'd say I truly love.

That being said, I did enjoy the time I spent with Oyeyemi's short stories. I previously read (and loved!) her novel White is for Witching (my review can be found in this post), so I fully expected to at least appreciate most of the stories found in What is Not Yours is Not Yours.

I considered going through each of the stories and discussing what I liked and didn't like, but I scrapped that idea because it would just lead to a really long and rambling review. No one wants that. (Not that my more in-depth reviews aren't long!) Instead, I'll just talk about the book overall and mention a few of my favorite stories, as well as the reason(s) the other stories didn't quite stack up.

My favorite thing about What is Not Yours is Not Yours was the fact that Oyeyemi cleverly inserted several of her characters into seemingly unrelated stories. I was initially tempted to skip around in the book, reading the stories with titles that intrigued me most first, but I'm really glad I didn't. Even though the stories weren't necessarily related, they were told in a sort of chronological order (since the characters aged as the book went on) and it was kind of nice to see where some of these characters wound up later in life.

Since Oyeyemi chose to reuse certain characters throughout the book, I was a little disappointed that those stories weren't more connected. That being said, I can also understand why she may have chosen to write them in this way. I mean, she was compiling a book of short stories. This isn't a novel. If she had opted to tie several of the stories more tightly together, she may as well have just turned the book into a novel.

As for the stories themselves, they were an interesting bunch. Oyeyemi's writing is lovely and almost poetic, and, judging from what I've read so far, she likes to insert some magical or supernatural elements from time to time. Honestly, it's probably a little odd that I like her so much since magical/supernatural stories aren't really my thing. Somehow, though, her writing works for me. It's odd and it's lovely and it's so different from what I normally read.

But I didn't love all of the stories in this collection. As I mentioned in my Show Us Your Books! summary, my favorites were ""Sorry" Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea," "Is Your Blood As Red As This?," "Presence," and "A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society." If I had to choose a single favorite, it would probably be "Presence." There was one thing in particular about that story that really moved me, almost to the point of tears. I didn't expect to have such a strong emotional reaction to any of these stories, but that one just really got to me. (I'd say more, but I always try to avoid any spoilers. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to review a short story without giving away spoilers since everything happens pretty quickly and within just a few pages.)

As for the other stories, I wouldn't say I hated them or anything ... They just didn't really grab me. Some of them were a little too much like fairytales. And, while I wouldn't say I dislike fairytales, I just wasn't expecting that type of story in this collection and the stories that read this way felt a little out of place. The other two stories I didn't enjoy as much just ended rather abruptly and felt unfinished somehow.

I almost gave it a 4 star rating because I didn't want my feelings about short stories to influence my rating, but I realized I didn't like some of the stories enough to warrant a higher rating ... So 3 stars it is. Still, this is a very solid short story collection.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist - 472 pages

Completed on 08/06/2016

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It took what felt like forever for me to finish this book, but make no mistake: it was actually very good. (In case you couldn't tell from my 4 star rating.) It was just long. And, if I'm being completely honest, reading hasn't been very high on my priority list lately. But anyway ... On to the review.

I really loved the movie version of Let the Right One In. I've seen it a few times, but it's been a while since I last watched it. Although it wasn't completely fresh in my mind, I could picture certain scenes very vividly as I was reading. Several scenes were identical (or nearly so), but there were enough differences to keep me interested. (Though I'll admit that one thing that was completely cut out of the movie was just kind of "meh" for me. I liked the direction the movie took a lot more when it came to that. I know I'm being vague since I want to avoid spoilers, but if you're curious, I'd be happy to discuss it via email.)

My favorite thing about this book was the fact that it gave a lot more information about Eli's background and her "friend," Hakan. (If you've seen the movie, Hakan is the older man that lives with her.) While I think the movie does a great job bringing this story to life, there were a few things that really weren't explained very well. (Or maybe I just didn't put them together.) Either way, I found the book to be really helpful in making the story feel more complete.

My one criticism, however, was that Lindqvist has so many storylines going throughout the novel. I generally don't mind when an author follows multiple characters throughout a book, but I got annoyed more than once when he built up the suspense only to cut to a completely different storyline. And even that would have been okay if he'd immediately gone back to the suspenseful moment, but that wasn't always the case. If he cut away from that moment for too long, it kind of lost its ability to thrill me. And that was a little disappointing.

Overall, though, I enjoyed Let the Right One In. I read another of Lindqvist's books, Handling the Undead, a few years ago. After reading two of his novels, I've realized that one of the main reasons I plan to keep reading his work is because he does a great job blending horror with heart. He creates characters you can care about and somehow managed to make me feel sympathetic toward even some of the most despicable characters. If that's not great writing, I don't know what is.

1 comment:

  1. i don't think i will read that let the right one in book.. maybe.. but i hate when authors do that with books and multiple POVs, cut away at a crucial point. it doesn't make me want to keep reading to get to it, because it takes the thrill out of it trying to pay attention to another POV whilst keeping the other story in my head, you know? it makes me cranky. that's kind of how i felt with Game of Thrones, I would read and enjoy one POV and then it would switch and take forever to get back and I just got bored (i know i'm like one of the only people haha but still)