Review: The Girl on the Train

I the-girl-on-the-train-coverwent into this book not knowing a thing about it, and I think that played in its favor. I wasn’t expecting any of the twists and turns, and so I was just along for the ride.

This book is from the perspective of 3 women whose lives become intertwined. Rachel is the alcoholic woman scorned, who is still hanging on to the hope that she will be reunited with her ex-husband. Megan is the neighbor that Rachel watches on her daily commute on the train, imagining the rich life that she is leading and the husband that dotes on her. Anna is the other woman, trying to pursue her own happily ever after while being pulled between the narratives surrounding each of the first two.

Without giving much away, the story builds through the variety of viewpoints and time periods to build a really interesting mystery. I did find the ebook format to be not conducive to being able to follow the timeline though. In a print book, it would be easy to flip back and see where we left off time wise with each narrator, and even to the beginning of the story. After awhile, I tried to ignore the time stamps, but there are pretty important to the way that the story is constructed. I think this would be even worse on audio. Particularly confusing is when the story jumps from the present to the past and back to the present, and I was confused about how much time had passed between the two present day chapters. Each chapter is broken into days, and those days are broken into morning and evening, or sometimes morning and afternoon, or some combination. There was a lot of going back and forth that disrupts the flow of the reading experience, as I was trying to place where I was in the timeline.

This book uses the red herring device a lot. I can see how some readers would be put off by this, but I thought it added a lot of layers to the story and they weren’t too disruptive. It was good to see the viewpoints of the same events from three sides, also.

This is a layered, complicated story that I really enjoyed. This review is purposely vague because most of the enjoyment that I got from it was the experience of peeling away those layers and building upon the story in order to get to the final reveal. The ending itself was just okay. Sometimes I can imagine a better way for the story to end, but in this instance it may be the best that it could be. The way that I thought it was going to go would have been really melodramatic and cringe-worthy, and I’m glad it didn’t go that way.

5 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Equus

6a00d8341c730253ef00e54f7ebb488834-640wiPerhaps I’m a little jaded, but this play didn’t shock me like I thought it was trying to. The description of the book references a truly horrific act, but all he did was blind some horses with a hoof pick. Not that it’s just normal to do that, but I was expecting something more than that. There’s also some masturbation alluded to while riding horses, but it’s never explicit.

It was written 40 years ago, so I’m sure at the time it was incredibly shocking, but in a post-South Park world, it takes a lot more to make me think – wow, that’s too much. This play just didn’t elicit much of a reaction at all from me other than – well, that was weird. Maybe I would feel differently if I had seen it performed, but I really don’t know. I felt like I could picture it well enough. The central problem of the plot wasn’t very well defined to me. There’s a lot of man pain and religious imagery that seems like the ghost of a story but not quite it exactly.

The only time that the story feels real to me is when the psychiatrist, Dysart, reveals that even though his wife is boring and passionless and their marriage is pretty much just a case of roommate syndrome, he concedes that maybe it’s just as much his fault as hers. But Alan’s plot, about whether or not his mental instability is caused by religion or one of his parents, or just the “devil”, is pretty boring. Maybe because it’s really trope-y, or maybe because I just don’t care about Alan and his family life. Part of it can also be because I don’t relate to the religious fervor and how Alan twists the things that his mom tells him about it. It doesn’t seem believable that Alan would hear some Bible verses and get it in his head that he needs to bow down to a horse god and chant to it in his bedroom at night.

The twist at the end (if you can even call it that) was just some more “meh” to me. I find it hard to summon any kind of passion one way or the other toward this play.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the play requirement for the challenge.

Review: The Nightingale

NightingaleThis book is a long, sweeping historical drama about love, family, and war. It takes place in France during the Nazi occupation during World War II. The story goes back and forth between two estranged sisters, Isabelle and Vianne, who are dealing with feeling abandoned by their father and each other along with the increasing desolation and hopelessness of war.

Vianne watches her husband and all the men in her small village leave to fight for France. She continues to try and keep her daughter safe despite soldiers moving in and food and supplies becoming scarce. Isabelle can’t stand to watch by and do nothing, so she begins to work for underground networks and aid the resistance. The narrative jumps forward to the present day (well, 1995) life of one of the women a couple of times, although it isn’t clear which sister it is until the very end.

I wasn’t really aware of how much France had been affected by WWII and the Nazis, so this was a new angle on the war for me. I read The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult last year, which had a lot of the same historical events happening with it, although Picoult’s book has more of the Gestapo’s point of view than this book does (though still not a lot). This book deals mostly with the two sisters and how their relationship to each other changes throughout the war. There are some side plots, but family is the prominent theme in the book. Also the risks we take to protect those we love and also to believe in love at all. Isabelle falls in love with another member of the resistance, but he pretends he doesn’t feel the same in order to make it easier if one of them perishes, for example. A mother’s love for her children and the risks that she takes (or, doesn’t take) in order to ensure their safety is a recurring plot thread.

The book is depressing, and the behavior from the Nazi soldiers made me feel stabby. There’s a lot of sadness in this book, as people die, are killed, or are otherwise abused at the hands of the soldiers. It feels bleak at times. But throughout it all, there is a glimmer of hope in humanity. There are a lot of low lows in this book, but it ends on an uplifting and sweet tone. I highly recommend this book if you want to be swept up in a story about loss and love.

5 stars.

This book fulfills the book set in a place you’ve always wanted to visit requirement for the challenge.

Review: Penelope

13490638This book includes an absurdist play (Caligula) with a demented director, and it seems like perhaps the author was going for some sort of absurdist story to go with it. Penelope is a story about a freshman’s first year at Harvard University, except it doesn’t really follow most people’s idea of what that would entail. Honestly, her experience somewhat resembles mine. Not in the details, but in the broader sense.

Penelope is cautiously optimistic when she arrives at Harvard, but since she isn’t a legacy student, she really doesn’t know what is going on. It appears that most of the orientations and things are much more important than she is lead to believe by the information packages she receives. She quickly feels like she is missing out on forging new friendships. She is reluctantly embraced by some guys in her dorm, one of which is obviously attracted to her. She begins to navigate classes and dining hall experiences with unwanted advances from her TF (teaching fellow, like a grad assistant) and her neighbor. She has a chaste affair with a European gentleman. Her roommates are not into her at all.

Aside from several men trying to aggressively court her, I can understand her loneliness and anguish at not having had the college experience that I hoped for. The part that I can’t really relate to is how she reacts to it. She seems fairly oblivious until the end when she “realizes” that she is not making any inroads in these various relationships. She barely has any sort of character arc at all. The whole thing is somewhat depressing but none of the people that she meets are nice at all, and most of them are downright awful. The academic portion is pretty unrealistic too, as are the course titles, but I feel like that was an intentional choice meant to show that Harvard academics are pretentious and not really worth anything in the real world. It’s part of why I think that the absurdist play is supposed to be a reflection of the world of this book.

There really isn’t much more to say about the  book. Apparently there is a book group discussion guide and I’m really curious to look at it and see what there is even to discuss about this book. It was not what I was expecting based on the cover art – which goes to show that you really shouldn’t base a book on its cover.

3 stars.

This book fulfills the book based entirely on its cover requirement for the challenge.

Reading Challenge October Wrap Up

This month was one of my best months for reading out of the whole year! I managed to finish 5 books, and I’m well into two others.

File Oct 30, 3 31 22 PMFirst, I had Betrayed, which I mentioned in my September update that I finished just after the cut off, on October 1st. I really rushed through finishing it because I thought it was due back to the library on the 1st, but it was actually due on the 13th, so I rushed for no reason. It was a paperback, and so those sometimes are harder for me to read than ebooks, since I need to be able to hold it in two hands and there needs to be light in order to see the words. But I did finish it, and I feel bad that I didn’t like it, since it was the book that my mom loves for the challenge. But more on that in a minute.

Then I read The Heart Goes Last. My expectations were higher for this book since I’ve read several things by her before and really enjoyed them. I didn’t realize that this was the compilation of a serialized book that had been coming out in installments over the last several years until I started reading it. I recognized a few of the chapter names while reading. I worried that this might not count as a book published in 2015, but then it turns out that the final part of the book was new to this publication, so I say that it counts.

Now, here is where Betrayed comes back in. Both of the books have a heroine that is in peril (in Betrayed there is only the heroine, and in The Heart Goes Last, the action is divided between a male and a female protagonist), but the treatment of both really displays where there is writing talent and where there is not. Vicki Andrews (in Betrayed) makes a series of really bad choices that are implausible and just plain stupid. It is even more infuriating when at the beginning rails against her impulsive sister for being rash and not thinking things through. Charmaine has similar situations, but her entire character is different, so that it seems fairly reasonable that she would make the choices that she makes. She is characterized as naive and optimistic, and almost annoyingly cheerful. But after a few events, she begins to doubt her trust in her environment and the people around her. And even better, the “bad” guys in Atwood’s novel aren’t just potty-mouthed, greedy, evil monsters with no reasons. Some of the bad guys even start out with good intentions and get swept away by greed or some twisted sense of idealism. That isn’t to say that The Heart Goes Last is perfect and without problems. But none of the problems were with the mechanics of the novel.

I sped through Throw Out Fifty Things, although it was too long for its actual worth. It was about 250-300 pages, but there were a lot of “journalling” spaces, blank pages between chapters, and the font was fairly large. So it had that going for it. I need to start reading reviews before I buy or borrow any more self-help type books.

In other books that were a slog, Lady Chatterley’s Lover took me a long time, and I only kept going because I have high standards for things meeting the requirements for my challenge. Not many people know this, but few books are actually “banned”. Although, now that I think about it, I think Eleanor & Park actually was banned. And now I feel foolish for not counting that one, especially since at the time I decided it didn’t meet any requirements. Anyways, back to my point. Many, many books are “challenged”, but that is not equal at all to being banned. Whenever you see those “banned books week” displays at places where they have books, very few of them have actually been banned, and even less of them were banned by an establishment anywhere close to where you are viewing the display. I knew for sure that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned, because I learned about the postal obscenity laws in one of my college courses. However, if any of the people in charge of banning had actually read it, they may have fallen asleep before getting to any of the more racy sections.

Lastly, was my book club selection for next month: Spook. This one I really enjoyed, partly because I like nonfiction type books like this, and second because Mary Roach has a very engaging writing style that I enjoyed. I definitely think I will be picking up more of her books. I highly recommend an interview she did with Adam Savage from Mythbusters about her work. It was highly entertaining.

It turns out that I didn’t realize that one of the books I read at the very beginning of the year actually checked off a box on the challenge – for an antonym! The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. I didn’t write a review for this book at the time, and I can hardly remember it, but it counts!

As for what’s up next, I’m currently reading Penelope – my book based off the cover. So far it’s a little meh, but I’m hoping that it picks up. I’m also reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah for a different book club that I’ve joined. I’m almost halfway through both of them, and then after that I have to find a book set during Christmas, a book with a color in the title, and a play. And then I will be DONE. How amazing! I haven’t decided if I’m going to try find a 2016 challenge, or take the year off of crazy reading. It is pretty fun to do these challenges. It opens you up to new books and ideas, although I’ve read a lot of crappy books in the name of this challenge too. It’s really a mixed bag. We’ll see, I suppose, how burned out I feel by the New Year.

So far I have read 33 books. I have 5 more boxes left to go, but 2 of them are well on their way to being checked.