Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

Interesting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant with her first child, and happily married, but instead she's 39, has three highly spirited kids, and on her way to a divorce.

This book turned out to be more in the genre of "chick lit" than I thought it would be. Although I hate the term "chick lit," most of its books share these elements:

  • Woman meets man and gives up her career
  • If she does have a career, it's journalism, PR, or magazine editing
  • Woman achieves desired perfect, privileged life, with a gorgeous house, rich husband, and 2+ children

In the intervening 10 years, Alice got her perfect life and became a shallow, spoiled brat (in my view). I did enjoy this beach read in spite of its made me think about my own life, my priorities (am I spending enough high-quality time with my kids and my husband?), and how quickly life is passing me by. But several things bugged me about it:

  • Does someone really change THAT MUCH in 10 years? I find that hard to believe.
  • Alice didn't seem very smart. It took her a long time to get that she'd wreaked a lot of damage in the past 10 years.
  • I could have done with all the extra plots...especially Frannie's letters to Mr. Moustache. This side plot seemed unnecessary and detracted from the main story. Also, although I have great sensitivity to infertility, I found Elisabeth's letters to be cumbersome as well. Yes, they allowed us to see inside these characters' minds, but I found this book to have too many side characters in general. And what happened in the end to Elisabeth and Frannie was no surprise of course.
  • SPOILER: I liked the storyline about Alice's daughter's troubles at school...but could she really do a complete turnaround? A teenager who's been neglected and angered suddenly becomes an angel just because she starts getting positive attention. A bit unrealistic, I think.
  • Alice's life seemed frivolous, pampered, and shallow to me. The world's largest lemon meringue pie? Really? I don't think I would like Alice very much.
  • I found the character of Gina to be baffling...her close friendship with Gina changed the course of Alice's life? I guess she needed some kind of conflict, and Gina was meant to present that conflict.
  • Does her husband suddenly decide that he is working too much, or does Alice decide that she doesn't care about all the long hours?
  • Alice gets her dream job at the end, even though she has NO relevant job EXPERIENCE. Classic chick lit.

I know I'm sounding overly critical. I did enjoy the book, but it was multiply flawed. I'm curious to hear what my book groupies think of this one.

Now to read a novel with a woman character that inspires me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars
It seems that people either love this book (some obsessively) or hate it (calling it cancer porn), judging from the Goodreads reviews. I am one of the lovers, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie and crying my eyes out.

Here's a fascinating example of serendipity: just as I started to write this review, I was multitasking in my binge-watching of "Orange Is the New Black." And what do I see? One of the characters is reading The Fault in Our Stars and tries to pass it along to a woman with cancer:

So this book is about two teenagers with cancer. It's a love story. Hazel and Gus are keenly intelligent, down to earth, bookish, and unconcerned with what other people think of them. They have strong family connections, and they fall in love over a book. What's not to love? No spoilers here, but be warned: it's unflinchingly, heartbreakingly sad. It's also raw and honest about cancer.

House of Prayer No. 2

House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey HomeHouse of Prayer No. 2, by Mark Richard

Clearly, Mark Richard has a gift for writing. The end of this book made it all worth while for me, but my mind wandered a bit along the way. Perhaps I'm getting too old or shallow.

I found it awkward that the book starts out in third person and then goes into second person, making the narrator appear if he's observing his disaster of a life from afar, absolving himself of any responsibility. As a child, he's labeled as "special" because of his deformed hips and spends a great deal of time in charity hospitals.

It's a wonder he made it to adulthood, with some of the risks he took. It's almost as if he didn't feel his life was worth preserving...having faced his crippling hip problems and a dysfunctional family.

By the time he becomes a writer, he's also worked in a variety of odd jobs...on a fishing boat, painting houses, as a radio DJ, photographer, journalist, bartender, and almost a pastor.

The book traverses over his life in a scattershot way. We don't learn much about his writing career or his marriage. I enjoyed the end of the book the most--when he helps build the "House of Prayer."

Although the book was lyrically written, I guess I was looking for something more compelling.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Light between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

I'm dreadfully behind in my book reviews and have three to catch up on. I read The Light between Oceans for my May book group selection, and I really enjoyed it.

Could you live in a lighthouse on a remote island and have contact with other humans only once every few months...and be able to go to the mainland only every few years? I couldn't do it. I would need more human contact, being an extrovert!

Tom Sherbourne, a returned WWI vet and clear introvert, signs up as lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock in Australia. Then he gets married and takes his wife Isabel to the lighthouse. At first she loves it, but then she experiences two miscarriages and a stillbirth. Racked with grief, she's also told that she has entered menopause and she won't be able to have any more babies.

When a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a live baby, the couple decides to keep the baby and not tell anyone. Tom is uncomfortable with the idea, but Isabel persuades him. They both fall in love with "Lucy," their adopted baby, and claim her as their own.

However, Tom's racked with guilt over the years...especially when they learn more about the circumstances that led to the boat washed ashore and the damage their decision has done on others.

Some in my book group felt critical of Isabel, but I could understand her rationale. She didn't think she would be hurting anyone by keeping the baby. They were more sympathetic to Tom, but at times I found Tom hard to relate to because he kept himself so remote from others.

My only quibble with it was the idea that a woman in her 20s would be going through menopause...that just didn't make any sense to me! Also the book had a pattern of people dying right before someone important was to happen.

But...if you like books laden with ethical dilemmas and no easy choices, you'll enjoy this beautifully written novel.