Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

Let me preface this by saying I freaking love David Sedaris. He’s one of those authors whose books I have to buy when I see ones I don’t have. His stories are so relevant that you find yourself wondering if he’s written his essay about you.

With that being said, Me Talk Pretty One Day was not one of my favorites. The first part of the book had me literally cry-laughing, but the second half was meh. I loved reading about his stories from childhood, and he kind of lost me as he went into his meth-addicted phase of one-man stage shows. It’s probably just too close to home for me as I grew up around people with a meth addiction, so others may enjoy the rest of the book more than I did.

This review is pretty short as I don’t have much else to say about the book. It was okay, and I’m just glad this isn’t the first Sedaris that I ever read.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”

I read this book as part of my Back to the Classics challenge, and it left a huge impression on me. It’s one of those that made me think, “How am I just now reading this?”, but I also don’t think I would have fully understood it any earlier.

It’s hard for me to put this review into words as it’s such a deep, spiritual book. The biggest takeaway for me was the theme of marriage. Janie’s grandma wants nothing more than for her to get married, and arranges for her to wed Logan Killicks, the boy down the street with the 60 acres. Janie is resistant and knows what she wants, but believes everyone has her best interest at heart. She marries Logan, and waits for the love to come after.

A couple years later, repulsed and absolutely not in love with Logan, Janie runs off with a man named Joe Starks whom she met only a few weeks prior. He seems clean-cut, ambitious, and promises to treat Janie like a queen. In comparison to her current situation with Logan, she believes this must be love. She marries Joe, and she gets to sit on a pedestal as he becomes mayor of a growing town. To others, this seems like a perfect, privileged lifestyle, but Janie feels manipulated and alienated by her husband. He tells her what to do, how to feel, belittles her and makes her cover her hair. Again, this is not love and she knows it.

Janie spends 20 years with Joe, but months after his passing, Janie meets Tea Cake. He is younger, full of life, and wants nothing more than to play around and have fun with Janie. She’s found her person, but she’s of course skeptical and keeps her distance to make sure she won’t end up with another disappointing marriage.

I won’t spoil it from there, but throughout the book I admired Janie so much. She’s fiercely independent, and knew what she wanted even if everyone else tried to tell her otherwise. My mother grew up in a similar household. My grandmother told her she needed to always be with a man, and although it led to her having the best daughter ever (me), she had to endure two terrible husbands. After her divorce from my father, she stayed single and I grew up believing that I didn’t want to get married. Thankfully she was supportive of that, and it allowed me to figure out who I was before I got involved with someone. Granted I married my high school sweetheart, but he is 100% my soulmate.

I got a bit sidetracked there, but those are the thoughts I was having while reading this book. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. It was a story of true love, endurance, independence and community. The end of the book ripped my heart out, but I also believe it needed to happen to complete the story. I would strongly recommend this one to anyone who hasn’t read it, yet.

The Revenant – Michael Punke

The Revenant – (noun) One who has returned, as if from the dead.

The Revenant is a book that I did not expect to like, but after about the first chapter, I was hooked. I, like many other people, saw the movie before realizing it was a book. I jumped up and down when I saw that Leo DiCaprio won his first Oscar. And I was excited when I was browsing in my local bookstore and found my recent favorite movie in book form on their shelves. I’m not normally the type to watch the movie before I read the book because I don’t like my imagination to be skewed by graphics and actors, but this time I couldn’t help it.

First things first, that bear attack. (This isn’t a spoiler, if you didn’t know about the bear attack, then you’ve been living under a rock). I remember turning to my husband after like 10 pages and saying, “Holy $h!t the bear attack already happened!” On second thought, let me back up…

Hugh Glass is the protagonist of the story (that’s Leo). After a short career on a boat, he sees an ad in the paper to work for a fur trapping company. He decides to pack up, join a group of men, and walk through the wilderness in search of beaver pelts. After getting attacked by the grizzly, the leader of the group delegates the job of a proper burial after Glass’ imminent death to two of the men. Fitzgerald (that’s Tom Hardy, for those familiar with the movie) and a kid named Bridger are the ones left behind. Fitzgerald had ONE freaking job, and that was to take care of Glass and make nearly half a year’s salary for doing it, but instead he decides to bail and steal everything Glass owns in the process. Glass was slipping in and out of consciousness, but he was aware enough to know what had been done to him. This excited a need for revenge that kept him alive.

This is where the story gets weird. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t like it because it’s in the “Western” genre (which is a big no no for me) but Punke does such a fantastic job at telling the story. He’s a master at showing the reader instead of telling them what to feel. It’s the difference between: “His foot hurt really bad every time he took a step” and “His worn down moccasins left no barrier between his foot and a prickly cactus, and he winced with each step down on his festering toe”. See what I mean? This is honestly what kept my hooked toward the end once the bulk of the action was over. After that, the plot just became too convenient. I mean, Glass narrowly escaped death 6 or 7 times while the rest of the men around him died. It became trite.

One last thing…I’m not going to spoil it, but the ending is nothing like the movie. I’ll just say this: if you want some intense, revenge-fueled, fist-to-fist battle, Leo-draped-over-a-horse-playing-dead death match, then you’ll be just as disappointed as I was. I’d still recommend it, though.

 

Ethan Frome – Edith Warton

Happy new year, everyone! Ethan Frome is my first read of 2018, and it is also my re-read for the 2018 Back to the Classics challenge. I first read this book when I was a junior in high school. It was one I remember liking, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. Rather than re-reading one of my favorites such as The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye, I decided to give this one another chance as I wasn’t sure I had fully understood the story at 15 years old.

I’m really glad this is the one I chose.

This is a book that requires some life experience to truly understand the themes. Ethan Frome is a poor man who lives in Starkfield, MA. If you’ve ever experienced a New England winter, you understand the brutality of it. The snow gets so tall that you can quite literally step from the roof of your house onto a mound of snow. Now, imagine being stuck in that in 1911 with no power, no transportation other than a horse and buggy, and a hypochondriac wife.

To be honest, I didn’t remember much of the book from the first time I read it. I don’t know if that’s because it’s been so many years or because it just didn’t leave an impression on my adolescent brain. There are a few twists in the book that I won’t spoil here, but my initial reaction toward Frome during my re-read was that he was, quite frankly, an asshole. How could he think ill thoughts of his sick wife while he takes her cousin as a mistress?

As I got to the end of the book, I realized he’s a victim of circumstance. He’d taken care of his sick mother during his teenage years and, despite the help of his wife, Zeena, his mother had died during a brutal winter only to join the headstones in the Frome graveyard that seemed to taunt Ethan. He never wanted to end up as just another headstone with an engraving that detailed his many years stuck with his wife in that house. He wanted to move to a big city to become an engineer, but poverty and desperation caused him to act on emotional impulses. Now he’s just a man with a limp stuck in the cold winters of Starkfield, MA.

If you haven’t read this classic, I highly recommend it. Edith Warton put together such a volatile story in a short amount of pages. It only took me a couple hours to re-read, and I’m sure it will now have a lasting impression on me. I’m thankful for the back to the classics challenge for inspiring me to read this, and I’m excited to dive into more classics as the year goes on.

Cork Dork – Bianca Bosker

Never drink the same wine twice.

I just want to start by saying that I want Bianca to be my best friend. Like, how does this chick do it?! She goes from being a journalist to attending fancy sommelier galas where she rubs elbows with celebs and down thousands of bottles of wine. I need a tip or two from her.

Honestly, though, this was a great book. I’ll just say it now: I don’t really like wine. Or alcohol in general. I don’t like how it makes me feel or how it tastes, and I don’t get how people get all crazy over certain vineyards from certain years and blah blah blah. BUT, Bianca made me want to fly to France so I could go to a high-class Burgundy wine-tasting. Her writing style was so immersive and comical that I felt like I could take the certification test right alongside her.

My favorite parts were when she was describing her follies as she tried to navigate her new career path. She had me in tears when she attended a wine tasting and everyone was describing their wines as “straw” or “golden”, and she told them she brought a white wine. That would honestly be me…

Wine

I had to self-reflect at all of my social blunders over the years as I read about the things she was learning. For example, she learned you do not opening champagne by pointing the cork at whatever in the room is not breakable and hoping for the best. I was crying from laughter as I remembered my days as a wedding planner. I was working my first wedding, and had been sent down to the kitchen to grab more champagne for the bride while she got her hair done. I stood in the kitchen paralyzed with fear as I tried to assess which way to point the bottle. “Would the mother of the bride really notice if that ceramic rooster lost his head?” was going through my head right as a groomsmen stepped in and saved the day.

Oh, and the time at my own wedding when the sommelier offered me the cork for our bottle of wine? Turns out I wasn’t supposed to pocket that to go into my scrapbook. He was giving me the opportunity to refuse the bottle if the cork showed signs of an oxygen leak. Who knew?

If you want to learn a thing or two about wine, the lifestyle behind it, and get a good laugh, then I would highly recommend this book. Trust me, you don’t even need to remotely like wine to enjoy her story. Bianca isn’t snobby, and her ability to poke fun at herself and the job is what made Cork Dork so enjoyable.

 

Good as Gone – Amy Gentry

Are you really my daughter?

Good as Gone has been sitting on my shelf since I received it in my October 2016 Book of the Month box. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I decided to give it a shot. I’m still in a bit of a reading slump with all that’s been going on, so an easy thriller sounded like a nice change of pace.

The story captivated me almost immediately, but lost me as it went on. It started out from the mom’s perspective, and she described how she lost her oldest daughter, Julie. She was kidnapped at knife point one night as her younger daughter, Jane, watched her older sister leave, terrified and hiding in her closet, too afraid to scream. Eight years pass, and we find out the family has all but fallen apart from the loss of Julie. Jane is rebelling at the farthest away college she could find, and there is a palpable distance between the parents. Just as their sitting down for dinner upon Jane’s return from college, Julie arrives on the door step… hallelujah?

We spend the rest of the book wondering if Julie is who she says she is. She looks similar, but her mom doesn’t really remember her eye color. And why is Julie referring to her parents as “Tom and Anna”? Why can’t Julie recall the shared memories between her and her sister? What about the dead body that was recovered eight years ago? In every chapter, we experience the story from the mother’s point of view, and then another girl takes over the narrative for the last half of the chapter. This is where Gentry lost me. In the end, it all comes together, but trying to piece together all of the different names that Gentry used (Julie, Vi, Charlotte, Starr, Mercy, Esther, etc.) feels like wading through mud.

The two perspectives are what give the story the depth and drama needed to question reality, but I feel it could have been written better. It took me a while to figure out what exactly she was trying to do, but when I did it became predictable. The ending lost me, as I felt it became too preachy. I’m not sure if Gentry was trying to praise religion or if she was satirizing it, but either way it made me feel uncomfortable. This was Gentry’s debut novel, and overall I would have to say she did okay. I would definitely pick up another book by her and would be interested to see how her writing style develops.

Bird Box – Josh Malerman

“It plays to man’s fear of the unknown.”

bird Box

I picked up Bird Box by Josh Malerman because it was described as a “psychological thriller”. I have to say, I was not disappointed. I have a strong background in psychology and recently received my Bachelor’s degree in it. I’m not pretending that I can read your mind or diagnose you, but I do have a good understanding of the human psyche. A lot of that is thanks to Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational which is explains why humans are so dang weird in our decision making.

Bird Box is your typical dystopian novel. The world’s ending, people are dying, but there’s no known cure because the malady itself is unknown, but if you see it…you’re dead. To be honest, I would have gotten bored with this plot line without Malerman’s impeccable ability to tell a compelling story. The story follows Malorie, and the chapters jump between three different time periods. He builds suspense as we follow Malorie attempting to escape to a sanctuary in present-day, but in the past she was trying to protect her housemates from the outside. The rest is guesswork. Why did she finally decide to go outside? What happened to her housemates? Who gave her directions to this sanctuary…and judging by the breadth of this plague, is there even a safe place left?

Malerman really plays up to man’s fear of the unknown in this story. Every day tasks that would seem mundane such as walking through the backyard are terrifyingly suspenseful because if one of the housemates catches a glimpse of whatever is out there, they may be driven to deadly violence. This means, everyone stays blindfolded. No matter what. Even the children are trained to wake up with their eyes closed. With your eyes closed, what feels like a threat approaching could really be a deer grazing in the yard.

The book keeps you in suspense until the very end, and the last chapter feels kind of underwhelming. You spend 30+ chapters wondering what’s outside, why are people reacting this way, etc. but it’s never really explained. I appreciate a novel that leaves you guessing and wanting more (i.e. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood), and I think that’s what Malerman was going for, but it feels unfinished…especially after the gruesome scene involving Malorie and Olympia.

I would recommend this book as a decent thriller, but I don’t think this is one that will leave a lasting impression on me. Maybe a movie would be more exciting?