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This is a really hard review to write. Overall, I liked the book, but it is kind of hard to put into words what I did and did not like.
I found the book interesting enough. The story was unique in it's overall arch, although it utilized a lot of not-so-creative story concepts (the cheating husband, grumpy old guy who knows sorrow, accidental pregnancy). It was full of overused plot devises, which was annoying, but they were put together in an interesting way.
It's not that I didn't like the book, but to me it just didn't live up to the hype. That's the problem with books that become really popular. You start getting unrealistic expectations and the thing itself just can't compete. The book was in no way bad, but it felt surprisingly slow-paced despite all of the interesting concepts.
I did like the focus on short stories and A.J.'s recommendations of them to Maya. I think it was an interesting way to structure the novel by having A.J.'s notes on the story to open each chapter.
Having said that, it felt like it was trying too hard to appeal to book-lovers. At first it was kind of cool for The Book Thief recommendation to pop up or for Maya to be holding Where the Wild Things Are, but after a while all of the literary references felt strained. Mostly, I just wanted to get on with the story. I absolutely love books, but I don't want to necessarily read a book about how much other people love books. Sometimes it works, such as when fictional, non-existent books are mentioned (The Series of Unfortunate Events) or if real books are used, to have them further the plot of the story (Book Scavenger). This one just kind of made a lot of tangents to discuss books when what I really wanted was to continue the plot and hear the story of this book.
I think for the most part, I just didn't care about a lot of the characters. Most of them just kind of floated from page to page, letting things happen to them. Tamerlane is stolen. Maya just shows up. Things happen, because that's the way they're written. It felt more like the characters let things happen rather than the characters actually doing anything.
Also, the characters are annoying woven together. The cast is surprisingly small and they are all connected. I get it's set on an island and it's a symbol for how A.J. isolates himself and all that, but I got tired of hearing about the same characters over and over again. I longed for some side character to pop up for a bit.
There's a bit of a twist near the end, which was interesting, but I don't think it was enough to "save" the rest of the book. By the end, I was just irritated by the annoying way that everything came together so perfectly and obviously. I wanted something to not work out quite right. But every piece has its place and the tight-knit group of characters stays tight-knit until the end.
Overall, it was a good read, but it was a bit drawn out at times.