Category Archives: Books

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot

5 STARS

If you’ve ever read a book by Jeffrey Eugenides, you will probably agree with me when I say he’s a great writer. Phenomenal, in fact. But with that being said, I’ve never felt attached to the characters in his first two works, The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. I mean, you’re not exactly supposed to in Suicides, but still—I never found myself falling in love with his work, despite the great writing. That is until this wonderful, amazing book.

The Marriage Plot is about three wayward 20-something college graduates who, quite simply, experience the profound effects of love in the 1980s. Madeleine, an English graduate writing her thesis on the Victorian literary device “the marriage plot,” doesn’t know how to turn her love for literature into a career, and finds herself even more lost in the ways of love. She falls for the charismatic Leonard, a science major who, despite his intellect, finds himself on a path toward self-destruction. And finally, there is Mitchell, the straight-laced religious studies major who embarks on an extended, spiritual journey around the globe, from France to India, while clinging to his unrequited love for Madeleine. This book follows these three characters as they graduate, travel the world, find jobs, fall ill, help each other heal, and figure out this tricky thing called love.

I think the real reason I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book is because I could identify with the characters. It was only six years ago that I graduated from college. (Wow, has it been that long?) I remember the classes that bored me, and the classes that left an everlasting impression. I remember sitting around with my classmates, sharing ideas, goals and passions. I remember seeing that special boy for the first time, not knowing he would go on to change my life. I remember walking down the Campanile hill, realizing that it was time for me to choose my path in life, and that my choices were endless.

Eugenides’ characters are not perfect. They make plenty of mistakes. But Eugenides does an excellent job of allowing the reader inside their minds to understand their actions. As he jumps back and forth through time, perspectives constantly switching, he tells the complete story, and reminds us what it’s like to be at that place in your life. I was enchanted.

Stray Observations
Some spoilers ahead

• Favorite quote: “People would never fall in love if they hadn’t heard love talked about.” –François de La Rochefoucauld

• Second favorite quote: “She became an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.”

• Setting this novel in the Reagan years was a brilliant choice. This was a decade that was met with a dramatic shift in how women saw themselves—as someone who could choose a career rather than a husband and 2.5 kids. Madeleine is a woman of the 80s and she fancies herself a feminist. In fact, her thesis is a deconstruction of “the marriage plot,” the popular storyline that insists the happy ending for its heroine is marriage. But despite her desire to go along with this shift, the truth is that she secretly yearns for the traditional husband, and wishes Leonard would just conform right along with her. This is a struggle many women continue to face today: career or family?

• This novel felt especially timely, as Eugenides reveals Leonard’s deep and darkening manic depression. The inability for those around him (his mother, especially) to understand that he wasn’t simply “down in the dumps” felt all too relatable. Although this was set in the 80s, it’s surprising how people today still truly don’t understand this unbearable disease.

• With that being said, I couldn’t stop laughing at the image of Leonard running all over Paris in a cape.

• I absolutely loved the spiritual journey that Mitchell underwent. I’ve always found religious studies fascinating. His final decision to join the Quakers felt like a perfect fit. Plus, I can absolutely relate to this sentiment of his: I love religion, but not necessarily religious people.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Books

What I’m Reading: May to June, 2012

I made a little more headway with my reading list these past two months. (Yes, I’m a little late on my reading update. It happens.) This round up includes tales of gothic horror, historical intrigue, passionate pen pals, second chances at love, and unraveling friendships. Let’s dig in.

The Thirteenth TaleThis book, which came recommended by a friend, was an unexpected delight. It started out a little slow as it set the scene for biographer Margaret Lea. One night, Margaret receives a mysterious letter from the elderly, best-selling author Vida Winter. Vida asks Margaret to write her biography, which is a huge deal because Vida’s past has always been shrouded in mystery. Although Margaret is a decent character, her story drags on a little bit. It isn’t until Vida begins to tell her story that The Thirteenth Tale picks up speed and perpetually keeps me on the edge of my seat. In the vein of gothic novels like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, The Thirteenth Tale digs up family skeletons, uncovers spooky ghosts and captures others’ mad existance. Pick this up if you love a good gothic novel that’s filled with surprise after surprise. 4 1/2 STARS

Wench. Lizzie is a slave in the 1850s. Once every summer, her master takes her to the resort Tawawa House where other slave owners also take their mistresses. Here, 13-year-old Lizzie meets an ensemble of supportive women who are also slaves. While at this resort, these women discuss the possibilities of escaping, and it is here that the depths of these women’s relationship to their master unfolds and reveals its complexities. While a couple of the women resent their owners and long to be free, Lizzie doesn’t, confusing her feelings for love and fearing the unknown. I enjoyed how this period piece told a story from the women’s point of view. Although it was remarkably sad, and sometimes unbearable, I was completely absorbed in the story. Unfortunately, the ending left me feeling unsatisfied. 3 1/2 STARS.

To Sir Phillip, With Love. I love the Bridgerton books from Julia Quinn, and this one was no exception. In fact, it may be my favorite of the series so far. Eloise, the fifth of the Bridgerton children, starts writing letters to Phillip after his wife (Eloise’s cousin) unexpectedly dies. At first she writes a simple letter that offers her deepest sympathies for the departed, but after awhile Eloise and Phillip become cherished pen pals. I think what struck me most about this book was Phillip. Talk about your handsome but tortured soul. This guy had some real demons in his closet that he needed to face, and two adorable children who unfortunately were witness to them. But Eloise, one of my favorite characters from the series, takes complete control of the siuation and brings love back to a house that has been void of it for so long. Another Bridgerton hit for me. 5 STARS

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Love gets a second chance in this adorable story set in a small, British coastal village. Recommended to me by a friend, this book is about Major Pettigrew, a retired widower who recently meets Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. As their friendship grows, they start to fall in love, but the close-mindedness of their community challenges their love and sets itself up to tear them apart. I definitely found myself rooting for these two characters—although the Major was much more interesting and likeable when he was with Jasmina—but this book was a little hard to get through. While my friend was most likely attracted to the fluid writing, the vivid detail, and the charming characters, the plot wasn’t gripping enough for me. There was too much focus on a pair of hunting guns, and I found it hard to identify with both the Major and Mrs. Ali. The generation gap was too wide for me and the cultural differences were emphasized too much. But check it out if you’re in the mood for a sweet story with a focus on British charm. 3 STARS

Forever In Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood. The traveling pants return for one last summer. I picked this book up because I figured, Hey. This is the last traveling pants book of the series and why not read it during the summer. The fifth book, Sisterhood Everlasting, recently came out (which focuses on the girls ten years later), and I have been anxiously waiting to get my hands on a copy. If you’re a fan of this series, you’ll recognize the format and same plot points: drama, trust issues, ridiculously fabulous vacation plans, lots of inner monologues, and lasting friendships. A set of best friends separate during the summer. Bridget goes on an archeological dig in Turkey, both Lena and Tibby face overly dramatic boy problems that could probably have been solved with better communication skills (haven’t we been through this with both Lena and Tibby already?!), and Carmen learns a valuable lesson about self worth while at a drama camp. The similarities in obstacles the girls face is too repetitive when comparing it to the first three books, but go ahead and read it if you enjoy spending time with this particular cast of girls. 3 STARS

****

For this post, I linked up with Blonde…Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

2 Comments

Filed under Books

What I’m Reading: March to April, 2012

Well, I didn’t do so well with my reading list this month. It may have had to do with the fact that we had an extra issue to ship to the printer at work this past month, and re-reading the same article over and over again, only to come home and read more just didn’t appeal to me. (Whereas watching episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and New Girl did.) So here’s what I was able to accomplish in March and April: a romance, a repeat read, a tale of magic and intrigue, and a light chick lit. Maybe you’ll find something that appeals to you below. Enjoy!

Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. This is the highly anticipated fourth installment of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series. It features Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton, two characters from books previous who stole every scene they were in together. We all knew that they would eventually fall in love, and it was really fun to see how they found their happily ever after. Plus, (SPOILER!) this book finally reveals the identity of Lady Whistledown! The only bummer is that Whistledown’s gossip column also makes its final appearance in the book. This witty rag served as a Greek chorus to the series, setting this romance series apart from the rest. It will be interesting to read the remaining novels without Whistledown’s society observations bookmarking the start of each chapter. 4 STARS

The Hunger Games. There’s really not much to say about this book. You either know what it is about or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’ve either been living under a rock or purposefully ignoring it because it didn’t sound interesting to you. This is my second time reading The Hunger Games—the first, which kept me mesmerized the entire time, was back in 2010. I decided to reread this book in anticipation of the movie (so that I could tear the movie apart in comparison to the book the way that super nerds do. Super nerds unite!). There was no change in my star rating from the first time I read it. It still kept me entranced. I was even able to pay attention to details that went unnoticed before, now knowing what would happen at the turn of the next page. 5 STARS

The Night Circus. Debut author Erin Morgenstern really wanted this book to be something special. You can tell that she means to capture forbidden love, black magic and childhood dreams brought to life. But there was something missing: a captivating story. The plot is thinly veiled: two young magicians in training are raised to compete in a battle set in a night circus. However, the “battle” comprises of the magicians creating beauty within a string of black and white tents with their special skills. And when the two young magicians fall in love they must choose between love and this boring “battle.” All the elements were there, but without a captivating story (and characters, I might add) the reader (at least this reader) is left searching. Sure, this book is filled with a lot of beautiful prose and descriptions of worlds that only Morgenstern could have dreamed up, but what is a beautiful world without an interesting story (and character) to enjoy it with? 2 1/2 STARS

Good in Bed. As a light piece of chick lit, this book hit a lot of hot button issues. Namely, weight. Cannie’s ex-b0yfriend has taken a job as a columnist for a woman’s magazine (think Cosmopolitan) and writes an article titled “Loving a Larger Woman.” Yes. Cannie is a plus-sized woman. And this book is about her journey to self-confidence after being completely embarassed by her ex-boyfriends’ published writings. She withstands a lot of pitfalls along the way, but ultimately finds happiness. However, the thing that bothered me the most about this book was the main character. Cannie is supposed to be this strong, independent woman. And I know this because we are constantly told that she is. However, all Cannie ever seemed to do was bitch and whine about her looks and past mistakes. After awhile, it really started to get on my nerves. She had moments of clarity, but they were overshadowed by her more periodic moments of self-doubt. If only the woman we were told Cannie was, was actually the woman Cannie was. 3 1/2 STARS

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? Leave me a comment and let me know!

3 Comments

Filed under Books

What I’m Reading: January to February, 2012

I love books. I love when you’re reading and you get to the meat of the book and you don’t want to put it down. I love when you get so invested in a character that when the book ends, your experience with them doesn’t. In January and February I read a lot of books, so instead of covering the books I read in a three-month time span, this year I’m going to attempt to do it in a two-month time span. January and February featured a couple of mediocre books, but it also featured some of my favorite finds in awhile. Let’s dig in.

Julie & Julia. Ever since I saw the adorable flick starring the ever endearing Amy Adams and the always amazing Meryl Streep, I’ve wanted to read this autobiography. The best thing I liked about the book was that it invoked my culinary side. I am still craving Julia Child’s crepes and plan to whip up a batch very soon. However, the pacing was a little off. The book was based on Julie Powell’s blog, and you can tell that she had some difficulties adapting her daily musings into a novel format. I much preferred the movie. 2 1/2 STARS

Poison Study. I love a good young adult fantasy book every once in awhile. They’re usually fun and easy to read. But this particular book far exceeded my YA expectations. It featured a very strong heroine, which is something that I always admire, especially in a book geared toward young women. Yelena is scheduled to be executed, but instead is offered the role as food tester for the Commander, a job that merely postpones death as she risks her life tasting possibly poisoned food every day. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but it is. There’s poison, magic, fighting, romance and really well-written characters. 4 STARS

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Simply put, Mindy Kaling is hilarious. If we met, I just know in my heart that we would become life-long friends. This book is part autobiograpy, part random musings from a very funny woman. Mindy is most popular from her role on the NBC sitcom The Office where she plays the pop-culture queen in customer service, Kelly Kapoor. Mindy starts her book as many memoirs often do, chronicling her childhood, her awkward teenage years and her journey to fame. Then she trails off into list making, many of which were hit and miss. My favorite, however, was titled Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities. She states that best friends must respect one another, be honest and gentle about their choice in clothes, and attempt to like each other’s boyfriends at least five times. Pick this book up if you’re a girl who likes to laugh. 4 STARS

A Dirty Job. This book came highly recommended to me by a friend, but I just didn’t get the same magical feeling from it as she did. Although I enjoyed it, most of the story didn’t feel sincere in places that I felt sincerity was necessary; and a lot of the writing didn’t make me laugh in places that I knew the author assumed laughs were guaranteed. However, the author (Christopher Moore) creates an interesting mythology about death and the passing of souls that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about. If you’re a Christopher Moore fan, check it out. 3 1/2 STARS

The Grammar Devotional. It took me about two years to get through these 365 grammar tips, but I finally finished it. As an editor, it was nice to take a little time out of each day and brush up on my grammar. Check it out if you have the same nerdy tendencies as me. 5 STARS

Now & Then. I read this book because it’s about time travel—a plot device that I gobble up every time. However, this was a tough one to get through. With a plot device that should draw a reader like me in at every turn of the page, I was left feeling underwhelmed most of the time. I think it was because I didn’t fall in love with the characters as much as I would have liked to. Anna O’Shea accidentally travels back in time with her nephew Joseph to 19th century Ireland. The two get separated and live completely opposite lives until they finally find one another in this foreign land and attempt to return to their 21st century lives. Anna never felt like a strong enough character for me, and I never really connected with Joseph, as he always seemed bratty to me. I don’t know. The characters went through a lot in the story, but I always felt very “blah” toward them. (A very technical term, I know.) 2 1/2 STARS

An Offer from a Gentleman. Oh Julia Quinn. You do it every time. You write a romance novel so compelling and so fun that you leave me wanting more. Although this wasn’t my favorite in the Bridgerton series (as it was a little too mushy) I loved it all the same. The story is based on the Cinderella fairy tale, but with a small twist. Sophie, the bastard daughter of an earl, is left to live with her evil step mother and her two daughters. (Sound familiar?) She is given one night away from them in secret by her house maid where she meets Anthony Bridgerton at one of the famous Bridgerton balls. You can guess where the story goes from here. 4 STARS

Attachments. I am so happy that I stumbled upon this book. Attachmennts is about Lincoln, a man who seems to have lost his way. Set in 1999, Lincoln takes a job as an Internet security officer. He’s not too comfortable with the job and knows that it’s not something he wants to do on a regular basis. His job consists of monitoring company e-mails for a local newspaper in Nebraska. As e-mails get flagged for “inappropriate content” or “misuse of company time,” Lincoln reads them and sends the offenders a warning. In his e-mail reads, two best friends constantly appear in his flagged folder: Beth and Jennifer. However, he enjoys reading their e-mails so much that he can’t bring himself to send them a warning. Instead, he finds himself reading their back-and-forth on a regular basis. Then he finds himself falling for Beth. What comes before love at first sight? 🙂 Seriously, though. I loved this book and thought it was such a cute story. Lincoln is a great character, and I could read Beth and Jennifer’s e-mails forever. They are such great friends. I wish my work e-mails were just as witty. 5 STARS

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? Leave me a comment and let me know!

6 Comments

Filed under Books

What I’m Reading: October to December, 2011

Well, I didn’t reach 35 reads this year, but I did read one more book than last year, so that’s a start, right? Hmm … I blame it on Outlander. Stupid 800-page book. You can find my earlier reads here, here and here.


The Duke and I. Julia Quinn may very well be my new favorite romance author. Her dialogue is what really grabs my attention. The main characters are so likeable in this book; I wish that they were my friends and that we could all hang out. Plus, the Bridgerton family is hilarious. I love the way the brothers interact with one another and how Daphne doesn’t take crap from anyone. The way she reacts to Simon’s bullshit hero dilemma proves that she is strong-willed, determined, loyal and fierce. The plot plays out like an 18th century Drive Me Crazy. (Before Adrian Greenier became Aquaman.) I loved this book and was eager to start reading the rest of Quinn’s Bridgerton series. Strongly recommended. 4 1/2 STARS

Diary of an Unlikely Call Girl. I decided to try out another memoir, but unfortunately I didn’t quite dig it. The premise itself was intriguing: How does a college graduate with an impressive degree become an English hooker? I guess I imagined some insight from a shamed woman about how anyone might do anything to survive. Instead I read musings from someone who seemed very likely to become a call girl; someone who spoiled herself with high-end clothes and shoes; someone who quite often disgusted me with her sex life (I’m not a prude or anything, but a lot of it was so vulgar); and someone who seems to have become a pro at keeping her readers at a distance. I just didn’t quite believe that all of her customers have been that kind (you know, for someone who hired a prostitute). It felt false. I won’t go so far as to recommend this book, but I will say that it had some interesting parts. 2 1/2 STARS

Never Let Me Go. I really dug this book and its veiled premise. It begins with three friends who attend what seems to be an idyllic boarding school in England back in the 60s. I don’t want to describe too much lest I give away the plot. Let’s just say this book makes you rethink friendship, love and morality. There were a few things I wish they had delved into a little bit more, like boarding schools outside Hailsham, but overall I thought it was the right amount of reflection and narrative. Those poor creatures. 4 STARS

The Help. This book came highly recommended and now I know why. The story is told by Aibeleen, Minny and Skeeter, three extraordinary women who each have their own story to share. I clicked with Skeeter and loved that her happily ever after wasn’t finding a husband, like her mother wanted. She found her own path. I connected with Aibeleen and her compassion for that child. And I adored Minny. She is absolutely hilarious and I still can’t believe what she did to that evil Hilly. This was a great read that not only explored living in Mississippi during the Civil rights movement but also the power of friendship. 5 STARS

The Viscount Who Loved Me. This is the second installment in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series. It wasn’t as good as The Duke and I, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Quinn admits upfront in an author’s note that the hero dilemma this time around was a little bit of a stretch, so I approved of her admittance of that. I think it helped me find humor in the situation. Anthony, the first born in the Bridgerton family, is afraid of death. His father died young and he just can’t see how he could ever live longer than his father, who was quite possibly the greatest man he knew. So he decides to marry purely for producing an heir. Enter Kate. I adored Kate. She was everything I love in a heroine. Strong-willed, determined, snarky, classy, funny and open to love. 4 STARS

The Memory Keeper’s DaughterI have mixed feelings. I loved the beginning and I adored the ending, but the middle was just so wishy washy. The story is about a couple. The wife goes into labor the night of a blizzard, which forces her and her husband (a doctor) to detour to a smaller clinic where only one nurse waits for their arrival. It turns out the woman gives birth to twins, but unfortunately one of these twins has Down Syndrome. The husband, realizing this, makes a terrible decision: He asks the nurse to take the baby to an institution for cases such as hers, then lies to his wife about it. But the nurse, who has a heart, after all, can’t do it and flees the state to raise the child as her own. It sounds so interesting, right? The rest of the book is basically the husband feeling guilty, the wife being depressed over her daughter that “died” and lots and lots of whining from everyone. But the ending was great and made up for the bulk of the story. (And you may think “This sounds like a Lifetime movie!” Well, it just so happens they turned it into a Lifetime movie. The book is better.) 3 STARS

What are you currently reading? What should I read next? Leave me a comment and let me know!

6 Comments

Filed under Books