Category Archives: Book Reviews

A Review of The Thin Place

The Thin PlaceIt’s taken me a while to write this review of The Thin Place not because I have been putting it off but rather because it’s taken me a while to read The Thin Place.

Unfortunately, Kathryn Davis’ novel is one of my least favorite I’ve read from my mom’s list. It didn’t help that I read such short sections at a time that I frequently lost track of who was who and what was happening. But more than that I think my problem with the book is just that it is a little too out there for me. Chapters would jump around from plot to the thoughts of various animals to reflections on nature. I get that the author was trying to make the point about how all of the universe is connected and the line between life and not life is a “thin place,” but I am too much of a concrete person for these asides to mean much to me.

As I often do, I wonder what my mom would have thought of this book. And that is the one downside of being done with The Thin Place. It means that there is only one book left on the list. And while I am excited to complete this undertaking, I think it will be a little sad to be done.

However, that does mean that I will get back to reading books of my choice (or really, probably, more books for work). So at least hopefully that means I will be reading faster and more.

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A Review of Miles From Nowhere

Miles from NowhereOne of the millions of books I read over my holiday break (five is like a million, right?) was Nami Mun’s Miles From Nowhere.

I’ve said it once and I’ll probably say it again, but I don’t understand my mom’s reading list. There are just so many memoirs filled with broken families and addiction riddled people. Maybe she just liked reading about lives so different from her own?

Truth be told, Miles From Nowhere doesn’t exactly fall into either of these categories since it is in fact a novel. But it reads like a memoir and one that contains both a broken family and addiction. Miles From Nowhere tells the story of Joon, a Korean immigrant, whose family is a mess. Her father is frequently leaving them causing her mother to fall apart and completely ignore her daughter. So around the age of 13, Joon decides she’s better off on her own and runs away. From there she makes friends on the street, loses friends on the street, sells herself for money, and does lots and lots of drugs.

One of the best parts of the book is the writing. Nami knows how to write a sentence. Plus, she has the added bonus of a really appealing protagonist. Despite all the bad decisions, I feel for Joon and root for her to overcome all the odds.

The book is actually made up of short stories about Joon’s life. While this gives a good overall snapshot of what she went through, it doesn’t allow for very much resolution. Often story lines aren’t seen all the way through. Even the end of the book is a little ambiguous though there is hope. Joon has tried to get help and seems to be making progress.

With Miles From Nowhere down, only two books left on my mom’s list to go!

A Review of America America

America AmericaLast week I finished Ethan Canin’s America America and I was pleasantly surprised. It isn’t my favorite book from the list, but I liked it.

One of the biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses of the novel is the main character  and narrator Corey Sifter. He is the son of a plumber and very much working class when he is offered a job on the Materey estate, the home of the richest and most powerful family in town. Corey recalls the events of Henry Bonwiller’s presidential campaign looking back from his own middle age and from his position as publisher of a local newspaper.

I expected Corey to be corrupted by the wealth he finds himself surrounded by. However, he manages to stay apart from it all to a degree. He is quiet, hardworking, and a good observer. I found him likeable to a point. The problem is that he is too quiet, hardworking, and observant. I wished for a little more feeling from him, more emotion, more passion.

In addition, the story is flawed because it is told from Corey’s perspective and decades later he still doesn’t have a definitive answer to some of the book’s big questions. Yet that also works to make it interesting. Not everything is spelled out and while I could have used a little more explanation, I liked that there were hints and clues but no firm conclusions. Sometimes there are things we’ll just never know for sure.

America America was by no means a fast read. It took it’s time painting the picture and mulling over the issues. It could have been said faster and tighter, but I suppose the journey was part of the experience.

A Review of Her Last Death

Susanna SonnenbergBack to back posts about Susanna Sonnenberg’s Her Last Death. The proximity suggests that I read the book with superhuman speed but the dates tell the truth. It took a little less than a week, it just fell on a not-so-bloggy week.

Sometimes you’re surprised by a book and sometimes you get exactly what you expected. With Her Last Death it was definitely closer to the latter than the former. I predicted that I might find the memoir about a daughter dealing with her charismatic yet out of control mother a bit over the top, repetitive, and too crazy to be believed. Well there was quite a lot that was over the top, repetitive and too crazy to be believed. So so many drugs, lies, and sexcapades! Much of these instances frustrated me. Yet, some brought the entertainment factor, keeping me reading, hungry for the next outrageous incidence.

Also worth noting is that the memoir is written in a type of stream of consciousness. I too like the stream of consciousness style – it’s how I wrote letters passed in the hallways of high school and I how I frequently talk. However, I do not have a book. In Her Last Death, the stream of consciousness brings the reader from anecdote to anecdote with little to no transition. It can be a bit disorienting.

I think the reason I am slightly skeptical of the veracity of Her Last Death is because of the disclaimer in the beginning. Sonnenberg says that the events are true to the best of her memory, though some things have been changed, and some people are composites. On top of that, it is demonstrated over and over in the book that both Susanna and her mother are adept liars.

Then again, if the events all are true, I’m pretty impressed that Sonnenberg has survived as well as she has. She’s lived a crazy life and lived to tell about it.

A Review of Day After Night

Day After NightIf there’s a benefit to getting your wisdom tooth out (besides mashed potatoes and ice cream galore), it’s having the perfect excuse to spend a Friday night watching Downton Abbey and finishing a book.

I think the theme of the last few books on my mom’s list is “better than I thought.” That’s mostly because I have low expectations for them, thus why they’ve been saved until the end.

The only reason I was nervous about reading Anita Diamant’s Day After Night was because I’d heard it didn’t live up to the author’s previous novel The Red Tent. And I believe that to be true. But you know what? I don’t remember that much about The Red Tent so it’s hard for me to really say.

Day After Night is the story of a few women in a British-run displaced persons camp in Israel after WWII. The women have all survived the Holocaust in one way or another only to be detained after trying to enter Israel illegally.

It certainly has its flaws. For much of the book, I found it hard to keep the women straight. Perhaps I didn’t pay enough attention but whenever the perspective changed I had to spend a few pages just trying to remember this girl’s background. Also for much of the book, not a whole lot happens. The women eat and sleep and hide the horrors they endured. In some ways it painted a picture of the atrocities of the Holocaust but it didn’t really move the story forward. At the end, though, things pick up speed and you see that there is a point to what’s happening. Not surprisingly, the girls each become more distinct during this time.

I’ve always appreciated Holocaust novels. As horrifying as they are, I think it’s important to keep the stories alive whether in non-fiction or fiction. Day After Night does this and goes one step further. It shows that surviving alone wasn’t enough. The question then became, now what?

A Review of The Next Thing On My List

The Next Thing on My ListI love when I am pleasantly surprised. I’ve gone into the last few books on my mom’s list with a bit of a negative attitude. I mean, there’s probably a reason I’ve left them until the end, right?

Apparently, not always. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to Jill Smolinski’s The Next Thing On My List on the list (sorry I just love doing that). I really enjoyed it! It was light women’s fiction, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Despite a somewhat sobering concept – after Marissa dies in a car accident, June takes over her list of life goals – the story is actually a fairly fun one. The list contains items like “go bra-less,” “be on TV,” and “change a person’s life.” While June is adrift in her own life, these tasks provide direction and focus. Not to spoil it or anything, but I bet you can see where this is going. In the process of living out Marissa’s life, June is making a big impact on her own.

Regardless of the obviousness implied in that last sentence, I was pleased that the plot wasn’t quite as predictable as I had expected it to be. There were a few twists that I didn’t anticipate that I really appreciated. The resolution was satisfying without being too neat. The perfect outcome.

Overall, I’d recommend The Next Thing On My List as a nice, quick read. In fact, I’m a little sad to be crossing it off my list.

A Review of Good Girls Gone Bad

Good Girls Gone BadI finished Good Girls Gone Bad this weekend. I promise I did other stuff too (like brave Macy’s during its Friends & Family Sale… be impressed), but I like the feeling of accomplishment I get from finishing a book so I’ll focus on that for now.

As an aside (did I say I’d focus?), the title of this book is a bit misleading. As I discussed it with some friends this weekend, they may have thought I was going in a more girls gone wild direction than I actually was. Alas.

I wonder what I would have thought of Good Girls Gone Bad had I not had contact with the author. At times it seemed a little zany. The characters are certainly out there. I’d call them crazy but that’s not nice when you are talking about a bunch of women who all met at group therapy. They have terrible relationships with men and together they try to work on these slash carry out revenge on those who have wronged them. Like I said, it gets a little zany.

However, author Jillian Medoff, gave me a heads up that she intended more than just a wacky tale of girl friends gone awry. She described it as a dark satire about family. So I went into it with that mind frame. At times, the hijinks were so over the top that it was harder to see the message. But I think I got it.

The importance of family, and finding a way to deal with the past and present, is a major part of Good Girls Gone Bad. So is friendship. It was these parts, more than the scheming, that made the biggest impression on me.