5:52 PM

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Posted by Ashley

This is more of a three and a half star book, but one worth rounding up to four rather than down to three. Chick-lit isn't really my thing, but I like to read a good one every now and again for a quick read that I can just enjoy without having to think too much. And of course, this one has to do with Austen, so I decided to give it a shot.

To sum it up, it was really cute. I know that's not a literary term, but it really says it all. The narrator was easy to relate to, especially in terms of her feelings about Pembrook Park - a little embarrassed to be playing dress up, but still wanting to get lost in the fantasy anyways. It was fairly predictable, although it did have a couple nice little twists at the end. I think I smiled all the way through the last couple of chapters, which is always a good sign. I probably looked like a grinning idiot to everyone else at the lunch table at work, oh well! If you want something fluffy and fun, I would highly recommend this one.

5:50 PM

The Book Theif by Markus Zusak

Posted by Ashley

I've been hearing and reading great things about this book for a long time, and I finally decided to pick it up. I probably set my expectations a little too high, because I was expecting something absolutely incredible. While reading it, I kept wondering what was so fantastic about it. Don't get me wrong, it was definitely a great read, and very worth reading. Not quite a five-star book in my opinion though.

The concept is great, and Zusak carries it out well. I also liked the use of foreshadowing, which was really almost more like telling you what will happen - but not quite all of it. Death gives away part of the ending fairly early on, but the rest of it is still a shock. I finished this in the back room at work on my lunch break, and it was all I could do to keep from sobbing - part of me wanted to put it down right there so I could finish it at home and have a good cry with it, but I couldn't bring myself to since I was so close to finishing. I did reread the last couple of sections when I got home though, but the second reading is never quite as emotional as the first. Ah well.

Overall, a book I would highly recommend - but not the best of the best.

This was one of those books that was really tough to put down. It was a quick read that kept me interested and engaged throughout, and I can't really think of a place where it slowed down.

The author does a fantastic job of intertwining and juxtaposing two very different, yet also very similar stories. Adele Cassidy's story is echoed throughout the novel by Elizabeth's own relationship with her mother, and again by her relationship with her two daughters. Although Elizabeth and her mother did not react to the struggles of motherhood as severely as Adele, it is becomes easier for the reader to sympathize with Adele, and to see her as something other than a monster.

Although the ending was poignant, it left a few holes to be filled - most notably, how Elizabeth and Mark saved their marriage. Did they go to therapy? Does he know about her infidelity? Did she tell him about her rape, and if so, did it help him to understand her hatred of his bedroom behavior and/or was she able to get past that experience as a compromise? I know it's a somewhat trivial thing to wonder - they clearly worked out their problems for the time being at least, I just couldn't help but wonder how they worked through them successfully. And of course we do know what he did about his job, and that she was able to go back to some semblance of her career. But anyways, enough of my rambling about what I'd like to know about a fictional relationship :)

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a page-turner, and one with substance that really made me think. I found it easy to relate to the characters, even without having (yet) the experience of being a mother.

*Review of ARC

12:49 AM

Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan

Posted by Ashley

Love Marriage was certainly a solid first novel. Ganeshananthan explores not only the life of a young Sri Lankan woman living in America, but also the lives of several generations of her family and the history of her country.

One thing I enjoyed about this novel was the structure. Ganeshananthan focuses each section on a certain character and their ancestors, so that the reader discovers much more about them. All of this background (which is detailed, but not overwhelming) builds up to great character development. Her attention to detail and ability to create such a diverse cast of characters is impressive. Each section is like a vignette, and to see how they all tie together to become part of who the narrator is is fantastic.

This novel also taught me a great deal about Sri Lanka and the customs of its people. I knew very little about the country before picking it up, and I enjoyed learning so much. The descriptions of marriage and funeral rituals were especially well-written and interesting.

I did feel a bit let down by the ending of the novel. I anticipated something much more climactic. I was also a little thrown off by a section close to the end where the narrator (Yalini) tells the reader about her body image, etc...I felt like it came too late in the novel. Her character was already so well developed, and there was very little sense that she was so obsessive about some of things she mentions in this section - it was like a curveball that forced me to reevaluate what I knew of her as a character. If this section was moved up to an earlier point in the novel it would make much more sense structurally and in terms of character development.

Overall, a very intriguing and informative read. I would definitely recommend it.

*Review of ARC

11:34 PM

Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall

Posted by Ashley

This novel was ok, but I felt a little let down - I was expecting much better from an author shortlisted for the Booker, although maybe my expectations were part of the problem.

It started off well, and the concept of the dystopian society she creates is intriguing and a bit frightening. Some of the events and ideas, like the contraceptive coils, make you think about where society may be heading. Overall, Hall writes well, but I found myself a little bored with her descriptions. There are scenes where she definitely suffers from telling-instead-of-showing-syndrome. I just couldn't really bring myself to care very much about the protagonist, Sister, or really any of the other characters.

The ending was pretty anti-climactic, and felt like a cop-out - you'll see what I mean when you get there. Overall it wasn't very powerful, which is something I would expect from a dystopian novel like this. I anticipated something really thought-provoking that would have me lying awake the next three nights thinking about it, but this one just didn't do it. It starts off strong, but loses is punch along the way.

1:12 PM

The Sister by Poppy Adams

Posted by Ashley

This novel is a fascinating exploration of the ways in which the mind can work, distort, and deteriorate. At the outset, this seems to be a fairly simple story of estranged sisters reuniting in their old age. While I could tell from reading the jacket that the real story would probably come in the possible scandal or heartbreak of their estrangement, I wasn't expecting the instability of the narrator.

It's the little things that tip you off gradually to what is happening here. Once you realize that Adams is using the classic technique of the unreliable narrator, it's impossible not to look beneath the surface of everything that she sees and remembers for the truth. It's also amazing how easily you can understand or sympathize with Ginny's logic, as twisted as it is - almost frightening once you realize how easily a mind can warp the truth.

The novel is a little slow to start out, but the story really picks up fairly soon. The descriptions of the moths and the processes that come with studying them may seem a little tedious, but I think they are necessary to completely immerse the reader in Ginny's mind - especially at the end of the novel. Adams includes little details in all the right places.

This is definitely a novel worth reading. Adams does a fantastic job of mapping the way Ginny's mind works, and also of manipulating the story. It's fascinating to see things from Ginny's point of view, all the while trying to figure out what's truly happening outside of her comfort zone and under the surface. This really is an impressive first novel - Adams certainly did her research, and knows what she's doing when it comes to her narrative.

*Review of ARC

If you're looking for something fun to read that will hold your attention, you've come to the right place...or rather, right book. No, it's not exactly a great literary work of historical fiction, but reading isn't just about literary value, it's about entertainment as well.

Willig has taken some liberties with dates and names (as she explains in the historical notes at the end of the novel), and the main characters are fictional. Despite that, it still remains fairly historically accurate, although the heroine and her companions do some things that ladies of the time would very likely not have done. If you can look past that and just enjoy the book, you'll have a lot of fun with this one.

The novel has elements of a number of genres - romance, adventure, and mystery, to name a few - so there's more or less something for everyone. I knew the whole time I was reading it how predictable it was, but Willig actually surprised me in the end by proving me wrong with a twist or two.

Even though I know it was a little bit silly, and not exactly serious, I can't wait to read the next book in the series. It will definitely provide a nice break from reading the heavy, academic stuff (enjoyable though it is) that comes with being an English major.

10:51 AM

The Rules of Gentility by Janet Mullany

Posted by Ashley

This book is definitely what it promises in being a historical take on Bridget Jones's Diary, and not much more, so don't expect a great literary work.

That said, this was a quick read, and a lot of fun. The characters don't have great amounts of depth, and it's fairly predictable, but I found myself laughing out loud a couple of times. The ending was a bit odd and unresolved in some ways, and I was a little disappointed with it - it felt like Mullany got tired of her characters and wrote it off as quickly as she could. I'd recommend this for a historical fiction fan looking for a beach or fluff read, because fluff (admittedly, enjoyable fluff) is exactly what you'll find.