Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker (2013)

Longbourn

Summary

Longbourn is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the servants.

Review

Although I’ve never fully read Pride and Prejudice, I can quote many of the lines by heart from watching the 1995 miniseries (with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) more times than I can count.

Longbourn doesn’t really provide any new insights into P&P, though it does add some backstory. It is more of a standalone novel taking place in the same setting as P&P. At the same time, I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you’re already familiar with P&P.

A Downton Abbey and P&P mashup seemed like a brilliant idea, but Longbourn didn’t accomplish that. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t love the story.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Shoe roses
  • British historical romances
  • Washing soiled petticoats
  • Downton Abbey
  • Retellings of classic stories

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)

Summary

A woman named Rachel takes the commuter train every day where she imagines the lives of a couple who live in a home along the train tracks. When the wife goes missing, Rachel feels compelled to help in the investigation, which she might be more involved in than she realizes.

Review

I was eager to see what the hype for The Girl on the Train was all about. Overall, I thought the book was okay… not terrible, but not spectacular either. I liked the premise and the plot was fast-moving, but the characters weren’t very interesting. There were a few red herrings, but I predicted some of the ending fairly early in the book.

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl. Both are thrillers that revolve around marital problems and have multiple narrators, but they’re definitely two distinct books. If you’re a fan of Gone Girl, though, I think you’d like this book (and vice versa).

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Psychological thrillers
  • People watching
  • Marital problems
  • Gone Girl
  • Alcoholism
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Learning British terms like “off-license”

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

Summary

Lydia, the golden child of a mixed race couple, is dead, but it will be days before her body is found in the nearby lake. Lydia’s Chinese father wanted her to have the social life he never had while her white mother, who gave up her dream of being a doctor to have a family, pushed her academically. Now the lives of her parents and siblings are turned upside-down as they struggle to make sense of her loss and confront the secrets and strains that led to her death.

Review

Everything I Never Told You is told through Lydia’s family members — the father who wanted her to fit in, the mother who wanted her to stand out, and the overlooked siblings. It’s an emotional story about identity, unreasonable expectations, racial and gender prejudice, and family dynamics. Don’t expect a “feel good” story with this book.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Parents projecting their hopes and fears on their children
  • Strong character development
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics
  • Racial and gender prejudice
  • Fitting in vs. being different

The Buried Giant

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)

Summary

King Arthur helped put an end to the war between the Britons and the Saxons, but his reign has come to an end and a mysterious mist has swept the land, clouding the memories of its inhabitants.

The Buried Giant tells the story of an elderly couple who journey across the land to find a son they can barely remember. When they find what may be a way to remove the mist, they must decide whether it’s worth it to risk bringing back painful memories and disrupting the peace in order to remember the past.

Review

Kazuo Ishiguro has written other books like Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, but The Buried Giant was the first book I’ve read by him.

As I was reading, I felt pretty ambivalent about The Buried Giant. It was slow-paced and lackluster, but I still kind of wanted to keep reading to see if it would get interesting. And that was how my whole experience reading the book went: not sure where Ishiguro was going with the story, but hoping there would be some fascinating revelation on the next page or chapter. It never came.

I didn’t care about any of the characters and the dialogue was frustrating and excessively repetitive. The story lacked focus and drive. This is one book I’d like to forget about.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Memory loss
  • Saxons vs. Britons
  • Charon from Greek mythology
  • Allegory
  • Widows who taunt boatmen by repeatedly slitting rabbits’ throats
  • Fantasy settings (dragons, ogres, giants, pixies, etc.)
  • Arthurian legend

The Thief

The ThiefThe Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1996)

Summary

Gen is the self-proclaimed world’s best thief — he even succeeded in stealing from the King himself — but his bragging has landed him in prison. Now the King’s Magus wants Gen’s help with the nearly impossible task of stealing a lost artifact.

Review

I felt so-so about The Thief. It has a decent story (though it was slow in the beginning) with an interesting protagonist, but it’s definitely intended for a younger reader. I’ve heard that the sequel, The Queen of Attolia, is better, so I’ll give it a try to see how it compares.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Anti-heroes
  • Fantasy worlds
  • Middle grade to young adult books
  • Plot twists
  • Newbery Honor books

Find Me

Find MeFind Me by Laura van den Berg (2015)

Summary

A mysterious sickness has spread across America, causing patients to forget everything and die within days. Joy is a young woman who works the graveyard shift at a grocery store in Boston. Abandoned as a baby, she grew up in a series of foster care and group homes and now she drinks cough syrup to numb the pain of her past. When it is discovered that Joy might be immune to the sickness, she joins 149 other potentially immune people at a hospital in rural Kansas for study.

Quarantined at the hospital, Joy and the other patients submit to strange rules and daily tests by doctors and nurses in hazmat suits. After things fall apart at the hospital, Joy escapes and journeys across the devastated country in search of her mother.

Review

Find Me is easily divisible into two very distinct parts: Joy in the hospital (first half) and Joy outside the hospital, trying to get to her mom in Florida (second half). I liked the first half so much better than the second. A mysterious pandemic with a potentially unreliable author quarantined in a strange hospital? Sounds great. Cross-country bus trips and doing drugs with bizarre people in the woods? A lot less interesting. The second half of the book was just a weird mess. I kept reading, hoping for some great revelation, but it never happened. Sadly, Find Me isn’t a book I’d recommend. :/

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Near future apocalypses
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Foster care
  • Grim, gloomy, and bizarre
  • Pandemics

Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)

Summary

On the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears unexpectedly.

I don’t want to ruin the story, so I won’t say much more than that. 😛

Review

Gone Girl was a book I liked, but didn’t love. The twists and turns and unreliable narrators made for a really interesting story, but I couldn’t stand the crazy, despicable characters… though I guess that’s the point.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Mystery, suspense, and crime genres
  • Dark, psychological thrillers
  • Complex personalities
  • Gender issues
  • Red herrings
  • Marriages gone bad
  • Unreliable narrators

The movie (2014)

A movie based on Gone Girl (also called Gone Girl) starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike was released in October. I watched the movie shortly after finishing the book and I was impressed by how true it stayed to the book. I had heard that it had an alternate ending, but I was disappointed to find it more or less unchanged. Nonetheless, the movie was really well done and I recommend seeing it.

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

Summary

Marie-Laure is a girl living in Paris with her father, who works for the Museum of Natural History. When she goes blind, her father makes her a model of the city that she learns by touching the miniature buildings and roads. When the Nazis invade Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee with what may be the museum’s most treasured jewel.

Meanwhile in Germany, a young orphan boy named Werner tinkers with radios for fun and becomes an expert at how they work. He attracts the attention of a German official, who gets him a spot in an elite Hitler Youth academy, which leads him into the German military.

The two stories converge in the small coastal city of Saint-Malo, France.

Review

All the Light We Cannot See goes back and forth in time, following the two characters throughout World War II. The writing is beautiful and the ending is sad, but fitting. Having studied both German and French, I give it bonus points for throwing in occasional words and phrases in the two languages. Overall, I liked it and would recommend it if you like historical fiction.

Here’s a part I enjoyed, where a Frenchman talks about coal in a radio broadcast for children:

Consider a single piece [of coal] glowing in your family’s stove… That chunk of coal was once a green plant, a fern or reed that lived one million years ago, or maybe two million, or maybe one hundred million… Every summer for the whole life of that plant, its leaves caught what light they could and transformed the sun’s energy into itself. Into barks, twigs, stems. But then the plant died and fell, probably into water, and decayed into peat, and the peat was folded inside the earth for years upon years… And eventually the peat dried and became like stone, and someone dug it up, and the coal man brought it to your house, and maybe you yourself carried it into the stove, and now that sunlight — sunlight one hundred million years old — is heating your home tonight.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • World War II
  • Beautiful prose and metaphors
  • Childhood interrupted by war
  • Blindness
  • Electronics (especially radios)
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Snippets of German and/or French languages

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Summary

Arnold “Junior” Spirit is an awkward teenage cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. Trying to rise above the poverty-stricken, self-destructive world he grew up in, he transfers to an all-white high school outside the reservation.

Review

True Diary has been banned for including profanity and subjects like racism and masturbation. I like Alexie’s response:

I certainly respect any parent’s right to determine what their child is reading. They don’t get to determine it for a whole school or community, but that said I was the only Democrat in my high school. I went to high school with a bunch of extremely Republican Christians (in other words, the kind of people who generally seek to ban my book) and let me tell you — those conservative Christian kids and I were exactly alike. I was publicly inappropriate, they were privately inappropriate. All this stuff that is controversial is stuff that kids are dealing with on a daily basis.

True Diary CartoonTrue Diary is semi-autobiographical; Alexie estimates that it is about 78% true. While it covers some sad and serious topics, it’s also funny and something young readers should relate to. Junior’s diary is interspersed with his hand-drawn cartoons, which give life to the story.

I didn’t love it, but I think True Diary is worth reading. It definitely was written for a young audience, though — best suited for teenagers.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Native American culture
  • Self-deprecating humor
  • Coming of age books
  • Stories with illustrations

Station Eleven

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Summary

Station Eleven begins with a present day performance of King Lear, during which a famous Hollywood actor named Arthur Leander dies on stage. Leander’s death is quickly overshadowed by the onset of a flu pandemic, which wipes out almost all of the world’s population and completely shatters our modern way of living.

Two decades later, a young woman named Kirsten who was a child in the King Lear performance, has found a home in the Traveling Symphony, a small troupe of actors and musicians that travels between scattered villages.

Station Eleven jumps around in time to events before, during, and after the pandemic, telling the stories of many different people, all connected in some way through Arthur Leander.

Review

After hearing so much praise for Station Eleven online, I knew I had to read it. I didn’t know much other than the fact that it was a post-apocalyptic book, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the initial King Lear part of the story. I was hooked when out of nowhere I read:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

Overall, I thought that Station Eleven was interesting and worth reading, but I’m not quite sure it lived up to all the hype I saw.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Global epidemics
  • Hollywood celebrity gossip
  • Post-apocalyptic stories
  • Shakespeare
  • The Walking Dead
  • Survivialism
  • Religious fanatics