Category Archives: Books

Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63

3 1/2 STARS

11/22/63 by Stephen King is the second King book that I’ve “read” (hello handy dandy audiobook). Stephen King’s books are perfect for audiobook—they read like a script thanks to the abundance of dialogue and action. Plus, his books are super lengthy (at least the ones on my reading list are) and as someone who always carries around a book in her purse, I particularly hate toting heavy (i.e. lengthy) books.

Unfortunately, I wish I had read this book instead of listened to it. Despite the length (and overall time commitment) the narrator’s voice got on my nerves and his performance was too over the top for me. To make matters worse, I couldn’t connect with any of his female voices. They sounded too stereotypically…feminine. So even though the female characters were likely well-written, his voice prevented me from rooting for any of them—especially Sadie, arguably the most important one.

Here is the setup of the book: Al Templeton, the owner of a diner and secret time traveler, is friends with Jake Epping, a high school English teacher. In Al’s pantry hides a rabbit hole to the 1950s. Stricken with cancer, Al burdens his friend Jake with a secret time traveler’s mission: Stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and change the world.

I was immediately hooked, as I am an absolute sucker for anything time travel related. When people argue whether Star Wars or Lord of the Rings is the greatest trilogy of all time, I insist that it’s actually Back to the Future. (I mean, duh.)

As always, Stephen King tells the story well and continues to keep things interesting. But seeing as how it was more than 800 pages long, there were definitely parts in the story that could have been cut—many in fact. It takes well over two-thirds of the book to really begin to dig into the Kennedy assassination, and that was the most interesting part of the story. The majority of the book is about Jake’s time spent in a small Texas town where he takes on the pseudonym George Amberson, enjoys the quaintness of small town life, becomes an adored English teacher and falls in love with the tall, klutzy and southern librarian (Sadie). This was a cute story in and of itself, but not what I signed up for when taking on this mammoth of a story.

Eventually the story circles back to the main subject of Harvey Oswald and JFK, and the plot gets exciting once again. Unfortunately, King’s handling of the cause-and-effect related to time travel, or rather “the butterfly effect,” was—again—not what I was hoping for. Without meaning to spoil anything, let’s just say King introduced paranormal elements that conflicted with the usual paradigm of time travel. It was still intriguing, just not what I was hoping for.

All in all, a fun read—as long as you have the time to spare.

Stray Observations
Some spoilers ahead

• I think my favorite part about this book was the basic history lesson. I guess I didn’t really know a whole lot about JFK. (It’s a wonder I graduated high school, really.) So taking an in-depth look in such a way was a whole lot of fun. I mean, maybe Kennedy wouldn’t have prevented the war in Vietnam—maybe that was inevitable—but it sure is interesting to contemplate the possibilities.

• I also loved King’s attention to detail regarding the rules for time travel in this universe. The rabbit hole always starts at the exact time and place. You can bring objects back with you to the present from the past, and then when you visit the past again, the object still exists. Also, every time you visit the past it creates alternate timelines.

• The purpose of the “Yellow Card Man” was a little confusing. I’m still not sure if I fully understood his purpose and where exactly he came from. Who would take up that job? Does it have health benefits? Dental?

• I would again like to stress that I really didn’t like the way this book handled “the butterfly effect.” Instead of taking an honest look at what might have happened if Oswald had never assassinated Kennedy, we glimpse a dystopian future where the world has suffered from nuclear warfare—the more extreme a change to the past is (from talking to a stranger to saving someone’s life), the more unstable our timeline becomes. And while this is interesting, I would have much rather seen King’s ideas for what a world with a living Kennedy would have actually looked like—sans paranormal elements. But I guess that’s not the story King wanted to tell.

• Even though I didn’t love Sadie as much as I think I would have if I didn’t have to experience her through the audiobook narrator’s awful voice for her, I definitely teared up at that ending. That was beautiful. Nice job, King. Nice job.

• Finally, have you heard that Hulu is adapting this book, and that they’ve cast James Franco as Jake Epping? Ugh. I love James Franco, but he is not Jake. I really don’t like this.

But I’ll probably still watch it.

*Bows head in shame.

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2014 Book Roundup

2014 Book Roundup

Well, 2014 has come and gone, and I can already tell that 2015 is going to be an even better year. I can just feel it. 🙂

During the holidays, I’m sad to admit that my blogging got away from me. But I’m back, and I would like to take a post to look at what I read in 2014. I surpassed my goal of 35 books (thanks to my inclusion of audiobooks) and read a total of 36 books. But what would I like to change about my reading habits this coming year? First, let’s look at what I read in 2014.

1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell****
2. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn****
3. Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks***
4. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald**
5. Both Sides of Time by Caroline B. Cooney*
6. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell****
7. Serena by Ron Rash****
8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott*****
9. The Walking Dead: Book One by Robert Kirkman****
10. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut**
11. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume***
12. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green*****
13. One for the Money by Janet Evonovich****
14. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates****
15. Looking for Alaska by John Green***
16. The Maze Runner by James Dashner**
17. I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star by Judy Greer***
18. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan****
19. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini****
20. Under the Dome by Stephen King****
21. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed****
22. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews****
23. Landline by Rainbow Rowell****
24. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Read my review here.)*****
25. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Read my review here.)*
26. French Lessons by Ellen Sussman***
27. Ship of Theseus by Doug Dorst****
28. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan****
29. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert (Read my review here.)****
30. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams***
31. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper****
32. 1984 by George Orwell****
33. 11/22/63 by Stephen King****
34. Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckhoff***
35. The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn***
36. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta**

My Favorite Books: Little Women; The Fault In Our Stars; The Marriage Plot

My Least-Favorite Books: Both Sides of Time; 1Q84

Audiobooks: Under the Dome; 1Q84; French Lessons; Dad is Fat; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; 11/22/63; The Leftovers

Book Club Books: Serena; Breakfast of Champions; Eleven Kinds of Loneliness; Crazy Rich Asians; The Marriage Plot; This Is Where I Leave You; Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

Classics: This Side of Paradise; Little Women; Breakfast of Champions; 1984

I’m pretty pleased with my list and believe it to be fairly well-rounded. I tackled four classics and read a variety of genres, from contemporary and memoirs to non-fiction and short stories. Being a part of a book club definitely helped me get to books I otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. Next year I think I’d like to read even more classics…let’s say six…and a couple more pieces of non-fiction.

Are you happy with your 2014 reading list? What’s on your 2015 must-read list? Happy reading!

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Holiday Gift Guide | For Her | 2014

All of these gifts are under $60. Enjoy!

2014 Gift Guide

1. Tartan Heavy Blanket Scarf from Tara Lynn’s Boutique

Scarves are a very popular gift for Christmas, but what about over-sized blanket scarves? These accessories are available in 11 different color combinations and are certain to keep their wearer cozy. ($39)

2. Tarte’s Kiss & Belle Lipsurgence Lip Set

Perfect for fun and festive holiday parties, this eight-piece set of lip tints and glosses is great for girls who adore color. Best of all, they’re formulated without parabens or phthalates. ($34)

3. Kate Spade’s Secret Garden Stud Earrings

Every girl needs a go-to pair of stud earring in their jewelry collection; Kate Spade has just the set. These navy stones are encircled with rhinestones that add an elegant sparkle to outfits. ($58)

4. Crowned Leaf Bakeware Rolling Pin from Anthropologie

Forget tired-looking wooden pins. Give this bright and cheerful handpainted rolling pin, which is made from handbone china, to the Martha Stewart prodigy in your life. ($18)

5. Personal Library Kit from Knock Knock

For the bookworm who is constantly running out of bookshelf space, this library kit provides a lot of nerdy, organizational fun. With this kit you’re able to sort who has borrowed what book. Plus, it comes with a date stamp that’s just plain fun to use. ($16)

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Book Review: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Moloka'i Cover

4 STARS

I love historical fiction. Reading from this genre makes me feel like I’m back in school, but instead of memorizing names and dates I’m learning the most interesting parts of the past through a fictional narrative. For instance, did you know that people who were diagnosed with leprosy in the late 1800s to the early 1900s were essentially exiled to the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i? (And here all I knew about leprosy was that that Lazarus dude from the bible died from it.)

That’s the story Alan Brennert’s new book tells through the experiences of his fictional character Rachel Kalama. When Rachel is seven-years-old, her mother notices rosy patches on her skin. Even though her mother tries to hide it, Rachel is later discovered and forced out of her home, away from her mother, father, brothers and sister, and cast to the leprosy colony at Moloka’i. It’s here that she makes friends, falls in love, finds her faith and grows up—away from everything and everyone she once knew.

Suffice it to say, if you are looking for a happy, upbeat book, Moloka’i is not for you. Although there are many happy moments sprinkled throughout the story, it’s utterly heartbreaking, and a lot happens. Imagine being torn from your family at such a young age, losing your freedom and being forced to live among strangers in a far-away place. You can never leave, not unless you are suddenly cured; you’re trapped. And even though the people of the island are wonderful, it’s unnatural for humans to be tethered to one place forever.

The book was interesting from the very beginning, but after Rachel arrived on the island I didn’t feel very attached to the plot. The story lacked soul. I felt for Rachel and everything she was going through, but I didn’t feel particularly attached to her story. Instead, I just felt as if the author was going through the motions, placing her in situations but not making those moments come alive. It wasn’t until the second half that Brennert’s story finally picks up. Suddenly I was invested and my interest carried all the way through until the end of the book.

Despite learning so much about leprosy, better known as Hansen’s disease, this book takes you on a journey through history. During Rachel’s time on the island, major historical moments take place, including the invention of planes and movies, world wars, and even the overthrowing of Hawaii’s queen. All this change is taking place while Rachel and her friends on Moloka’i simply observe from afar. Get ready for some tears.

Stray Observations
Some spoilers ahead

• Favorite quote: “Fear is good. In the right degree it prevents us from making fools of ourselves. But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living. Fear is our boon companion but never our master.”

• Rachel’s father was the sweetest man. I loved how he brought her back a doll from every place he visited. Very clever.

• I enjoyed the theological discussion from the nuns at Rachel’s school. I didn’t feel like it was particularly overdone, but rather addressed questions you know everyone would ask—and still ask—during difficult times: How can such awful things happen to such innocent people?

• Did anyone else wish for Sister Catherine to quit the convent and go live with her family? She was such a good person and deserved so much happiness. She cared so much for those young girls, I just wish she would have cared for herself, too.

• It was beyond touching how Rachel’s husband Kenji wouldn’t leave her behind when he is told he can finally leave the island. But doesn’t anyone else think he should have used his free pass to visit the outside world just once in his life? With the tragic events that follow, it breaks my heart to know that he never got to see outside of Moloka’i as an adult.

• Despite that, at least Rachel was awarded a somewhat happy ending. She finally got to travel and see the world. My heart is breaking all over again.

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Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 Cover

1 STAR

First published in three parts and originally printed in Japanese, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is a book that sounds fascinating: Set in 1984, a ruthless assassin named Aomame starts to notice small changes to the world around her. She soon realizes she’s become transported to an alternate universe, which she later names 1Q84. Meanwhile, an aspiring author named Tengo takes on a ghostwriting project that involves him with a mystical cult. Their stories eventually converge and the mystery begins to unfold. Intriguing, right?

Wrong. This was one of the most boring books I’ve ever read.

Well, not read, I guess. I listened to 1Q84 on audiobook. And I’m glad I did. This beast of a book—at nearly 1,000 pages!—did not deliver an enticing story. Instead of creating a multilayered plot that drew me in, I continuously zoned out during my morning commutes. It constantly repeated itself (no wonder it was so long) and delivered a mediocre “mystery” with an anticlimactic ending. Aomame, the “ruthless assassin,” makes Inspector Gadget look like a savvy adventure series. And the major emotional draw for the entire book is the love she feels for a man whose hand she once held in elementary school, and whom she never saw again. That’s right folks. She fell in love with a man in the third grade. Not really a man, I guess. A boy. She has spent the last 20 years of her life pining for a 10-year-old. Gross. Apparently, not one single man she met in all of her life compared to the boy she fell in love with 20 years ago.

On top of that, the literary device of a parallel universe that really attracted me to this novel was completely wasted. The changes Aomame notices around her when she switches worlds don’t affect her past life in any way. And the cult that Tengo finds himself entangled in is as tame as a kitten. And did I mention that the book is nearly 1,000 pages? At that page length I expected an epic tale of love, war and mystery. What a letdown. I do not recommend it.

Stray Observations
Some spoilers ahead

• Can I reiterate this once more? It was nearly 1,000 pages! That’s more than 45 hours in audiobook world! Edit yourself, dude.

• There’s no way Tengo’s ghostwritten novel, Air Chrysalis, would have become a best seller. Just saying.

• What was the deal with the faceless fee collector? I had to listen to 20 minutes of him berating Aomame and Tengo’s door, never to hear from him again or discover the purpose of his presence, which must have ate up at least 50 pages. Was he Tengo’s dead father? And if so, what was the point? What was the point of the whole story, really?

• How have these two characters clung to that one moment in a grade school classroom for 20 years? The strongest crush I had in grade school involved me saving a pair of scissors my crush had borrowed from me. I preserved them in a Ziploc bag. But then I needed to use the scissors for a class project, so the next day I took them out of the bag. Then my feelings for this boy waned the following year because we no longer shared the same teacher. And also because we were in grade school!

• Who are the Little People? Why did Murakami never spend more time with these mystical creatures? That would have made a much more interesting novel—much more interesting than sitting around with Ushikawa for a third of the book as he investigated Aomame and Tengo, uncovering information about them we already knew.

• I will say this for the book: Reading 1Q84 made me want to read the classic novel its title was based on, George Orwell’s 1984. I have even gone so far as to buy a copy of it from my local used-book store, The Dusty Bookshelf. (My favorite place in Lawrence.) So there’s that. Thanks 1Q84.

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