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Search tags: netgalley-books
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review 2017-08-17 06:09
The Heart of Henry Quantum
The Heart of Henry Quantum - Pepper Harding

This book was compared with A Man Called Ove and Love, Actually, a book and a film the blurb refers to as beloved. And that is a big reason I chose this book on NetGalley — because I did love both of them.

 

Unlike Ove, this story does not feature a loveable character; in fact, only one of the three main characters, featured in different parts, was one I would consider compelling. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the story revolves around a couple who has, for the most part, given up on love, where Ove's story was one of a love lost and mourned. This is a more cynical story, with an edge to it; Ove is a curmudgeon where Henry, despite being described as socially-awkward, has managed to have an affair that inspired a woman to leave her marriage. In Henry's long day's journey into shopping for his wife's Christmas present, I was reminded of Harold Fry, (in a good way) but at the same time I wanted to scream at him to just buy the damn perfume and get back to work. I understand the point wasn't the perfume, but still, it was aggravating given that the premise involved such an easily accomplished task as opposed to a complex journey.

 

I saw in some reviews outrage that the story contains offensive, inappropriate language regarding mental health, among other things, and I agree — there were several cringe-worthy statements made by the main characters. This is not a matter of being true to a character, the statements were gratuitous and would have been better left unexpressed.

 

I would guess that the relatively small number of reviews I've seen has as much to do with that last point as it does the poor comparisons in the blurb — perhaps aligning with something like Shopgirl or Little Children, both of which sprang to my mind while reading, would have helped. Aside from the poor choice of certain lines of dialogue, the book still would have appealed to me, but my expectations would have been very different.

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review 2017-07-27 04:45
Cruel Beautiful World
Cruel Beautiful World: A Novel - Caroline Leavitt

This is a painful, heartbreaking story about expectations, disappointments, love and secrets. When Lucy leaves her already fragmented family to run away with William, her 30-year-old high school English teacher, she has no idea how isolated her life will become. (Time out a second - What is it with students and their high school teachers? I loved mine, but I never wanted to run away with them. I know they were nuns, but still.) While the story is primarily Lucy's, Leavitt gives vibrant life to each of her characters, who face their own demons and regrets with grace and dignity.

 

As usual, Leavitt delivers a beautifully written story, moving in its courage, raw emotion, and unflinching hope. William's selfishness and immaturity made me wonder why Lucy, a young, beautiful girl, would stay with him. Then I listened to this NPR interview that someone kindly posted on Goodreads, and I understood it a little better. This is not an easy story to read, but it is moving and thought provoking, and it is worth the effort you will have to put into seeing it through its final pages. Not because it is hard to read, but instead, because Leavitt has created a world so real that you will worry about these people until the very end, and then, maybe even a little bit longer.

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review 2017-07-27 03:47
The Wonder
The Wonder - Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue has the unique ability to place the reader in a precarious, uncomfortable and psychologically fraught situation — it is utterly compelling, and almost equally frustrating. In this story set in the Irish Midlands, Donoghue's characters are perfectly balanced; so that while there are certainly "good guys" and "bad guys" in a traditional sense, many of them cross the line back and forth between the two. There is a danger here in giving away the story with the small details, but I usually try to avoid that anyway. When I first finished this book, I could only comment on Goodreads that it was disturbing, and I needed time to recover. I have had some time now, but I'm not so sure I have recovered. Don't let that stop you from reading this book. In fact, it should make you go out and get it right now.

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review 2017-07-05 04:45
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See

It's been a while since I read a Lisa See book. I had a digital copy of this book thanks to NetGalley, but I opted to listen to it when I had the chance. Sometimes, when there are foreign names and places, I prefer this, rather than have the voice in my head stumbling over unfamiliar words. This was a well done audio book, but not my favorite Lisa See book of the bunch I have read - Snowflower and the Secret Fan is probably still my favorite.

 

In any case, I did learn a lot about the ethnic minority Akha people and the tea growing region in China, and the characters were interesting and unique. There were some things that didn't jibe for me, including the fairly open-minded views about sex in the culture, but then an almost complete ignorance of how these actions relate to procreation. Despite Li-yan's age and far flung experiences, she still seemed incredibly immature even as she aged throughout the story. I found the historical aspects and the details of the tea industry fascinating, but there were other parts that were predictable and repetitive that distracted from the story.

 

I was reminded of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland (I saw the movie, not sure if I would recommend it, unless you need a reason to drink) while reading this book because I had the same shocked reaction to discover that the story took place in the present day. Li-yan's village has barely seen a car in the 1990s; when an actual date was finally mentioned well into the story I was stunned — I thought I was reading about a culture from the 1800s. So yes, Lisa See once again presents a compelling topic and a wealth of information, and for that reason I look forward to the next book she has to offer.

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review 2017-07-05 04:11
Leave Me
Leave Me: A Novel - Gayle Forman

I haven't read Gayle Forman's YA books, but of course I've heard good things about them, so I was eager to read her first book of adult fiction. (I feel weird and grown up at the same time calling it that.) Anyway, while her writing was undeniably compelling, I found the subject slightly too close to home, having myself been a 40-something working mom with toddlers at one time. Happily, I have never had to deal with a health crisis like Maribeth's, but abandoning my children is an idea I could relate to only in theory. My own experience was more of a peculiar longing upon passing hotels — wanting to spend a long, uninterrupted night, and leave late in the morning with the bed unmade and the dirty dishes from a delicious breakfast by the door — but maybe that's just me. A lot has been said of the premise of the book, so clearly Forman has hit a nerve and sparked a conversation.

 

The logistics of Maribeth Klein's departure from her family and her job did not seem all that realistic to me, and the life she led in their absence strained belief, but thankfully Forman's crisp writing kept me reading. I find it hard to lose myself in a story where I do not like the main character, and honestly, I did not really like Maribeth. I can't help but think that despite what she considered compelling reasons to leave (prior to her health issues), most of these were "first world problems". Meanwhile, her husband Jason has to be the most unrealistic character of all, barely fazed by her behavior and eager to accept a good part of the blame for her abandonment. If only.

 

There were many things I liked about the book; many minor characters were depicted with fine detail and clarity. While I liked Maribeth's ultimate search for her adoptive mother, I felt that it should have been more of the point of her leaving, rather than the backhand way she happened upon that search. As a reader, you knew where this was going, there were just some parts along the way you might have wanted to skip.

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