Tuesday, August 30, 2011

52 Books in 52 Weeks - #2

Books 1-5 of this year's 52 books in 52 weeks challenge.

It's on like Donkey Kong and I'm keeping up. Since the last post regarding this challenge I have finished another book - putting this year's total at 33. It's now time to start sharing my reading experience with you.

I started off using solely the list that I had made based on classics. I realized part way through the first book that there was no way I would finish 52 books if I forced myself to read them in any particular order.  Since then I've just chosen books that sounded good at the time - whether they were on the list or not.  This approach has worked much better and has helped me to focus and read the books rather than just trying to speed through them to meet my goal.

Without giving too much away for those of you who still want to read these books, I'll do my best at outlining the plot of each story as well as my personal impressions.

Prior to my summaries, I'll be indicating when I finished each book, the rating that I gave it on Goodreads, and the "award" I would give it. At the end, I'll let you know which of these books was my favorite.  The favorites from each group will move on elimination style to eventually decide my favorite read of 2011.

1. Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

Finished January 18. Rated 2/5 stars. Award : Weakest Female Lead

In Mansfield Park, Jane Austen tells the story of Fanny Price, a young woman sent by her family to live with her rich uncle and aunt at their home (Mansfield Park) in order to give her a better life than they can afford.  The family treats Fanny as an underling and she is never on even status with them. The only family member who truly ever treats her as an equal is her cousin, Edmund.

The story documents the interactions of the young people who live in the area. Visiting siblings Mary & Henry Crawford appear on the scene and add a sense of "modern" life to the area, pushing the cousins to entertain one another in ways not truly acceptable to their parents. Fanny is continuously torn between the old proper actions and the new proclivities of the visitors.

If you like fancy Victorian era writing, then fantastic. While Fanny may have been considered modern during the time period in which this story takes place, the weakness of her character drove me absolutely crazy throughout the book. I often found her boring, vapid and whiny. It seemed to me that there was a lot of self-loathing in her character. I kept reading in the hopes that she would stand up to her bratty female cousins.

I really had a hard time with this one. The book was very slow to start and there were many times that I thought about putting it down. The last third of the book finally picked up the pace and got more interesting for me. Had the entire book been like that last third I would really have loved it. As it stands, it's not my favorite Jane Austen. 

2. Love the One You're With - Emily Griffin

Finished January 22. Rated 4/5 stars. Award : Most awkward emotionally.

Love the One You're With is the story of a woman who is looking for the answer to the question "What if?". Ellen has been married to her best friend's brother for about a year and has a wonderful marriage. Her husband is completely in love with her and they work very well together.

Things are going well until Ellen runs into her ex-boyfriend Leo. She begins questioning if she has made the right choice in marrying Andy.

I enjoyed the writing in this book, but it did make me morally uncomfortable. Ellen is walking the line of cheating on her husband. That bothered me immensely. I kept wanting her to kick Leo to the curb like the loser he is. Even though her marriage is not perfect, it is very clear that she and Andy love each other dearly. I could not understand why she would risk throwing that away. It just seemed so cut and dry to me.

The main character in this book was ridiculously well developed. Emily Giffin's writing always sucks me in because of her ability to make her characters seem so real.  My only complaint is her lack of development in the character of best friend, Margot. Margot seems like a perfect opportunity to develop a strong simultaneous plot line, but she just seemed to fade into the background. Perhaps this was because Giffin didn't want to detract from the focus on Ellen or perhaps she has plans to use those available story lines in a future novel. 

Without a doubt, this book is chick-lit. If you don't like that genre then you need to run away quickly. It was a fairly quick and easy read for me and I enjoyed it. Though I do have to admit...I enjoyed her earlier works more.

3. House Rules - Jodi Picoult

Finished January 30. Rated 4/5 stars. Award : Best "Yelling at the Screen" book.

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome - a condition that causes him to have issues with social interaction and an inability to understand language without assuming everything is literal.  Jacob is obsessed with forensic science and watches episodes of a CSI-like show religiously. He challenges himself by making a goal to solve each case before the television characters. He is so intensely possessed that he listens frequently to a police scanner and even shows up at the scene of a crime in an attempt to help the police solve the case.

Jacob's tutor, Jess winds up being discovered dead on the day after Jacob was supposed to meet her for a tutoring session. Jacob's knowledge of forensics leads him to provide information that causes police to consider him the prime suspect in the case. The events following the crime lead the family (Jacob, brother Theo and mother Emma) through an intense range of emotions and difficult interactions as they struggle to remain whole.

In the writing of the novel things are often seen from Jacob's point of view in a way that allows the reader "covert" information regarding the events. Because of this, I often felt myself wanting to tell the other characters in the book what was going on - similar to people who yell at movie screens to warn horror victims.

Overall, this was a fast and easy read. The characters are well developed. I would have given it 5 stars, but much like my opinion of Picoult's Handle with Care, I did not like the ending. The second half of the book seemed to be an attempt to cram too much information and activity in within a short period of time. Still, it kept my attention and left me wanting more of the story.

4. Salem Falls - Jodi Picoult

Finished February 4. Rated 4/5 stars. Award : Most predictable plot basis.

Jack St. Bride as been accused of molestation of a student.  In order to escape the persecution he faced, Jack moves to Salem Falls after his release from prison.

He finds a job working for Addie Peabody at her restaurant and attempts to - blend in to the woodwork, so to speak - so that he can move on with his life. But Jack is caught in the middle of the antics of four teenage girls who dabble in witchcraft and then begin to accuse Jack of assault in order to keep their parents from discovering their secrets.

I really liked the flow of this book and thought it was well written (as with my opinion of all the Jodi Picoult's I've read). My only disappointment with this book was that it used the setting of Salem Falls (a town with a statue of one of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials) to create a plot along the lines of a witch hunt. This made me roll my eyes on more than one occasion as I have read enough of Ms. Picoult's books to know that her imagination is much better than this. Had this been the first of her books I had read, I don't think I would love her as an author as much as I do. However, the writing prevailed and I did enjoy the book regardless of that opinion.

5. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen 

Finished February 21. Rated 4/5 stars. Award : Best Austen book of 2011 (thus far).

Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine, a teenage girl who visits Bath with a family friend. While in Bath, she befriends Eleanor and quickly finds herself smitten with Eleanor's brother, Henry. When it comes time to leave the city, Catherine is invited to visit Eleanor & Henry's home, Northanger Abbey.

Due to the Gothic nature of the home, the mystery of some forbidden rooms and the secret history of Eleanor & Henry's mother's death, Catherine lets her imagination run wild and is suddenly caught up in the potential mystery of it all.

This book read much easier for me than other Austen novels and I enjoyed it much more than Mansfield Park. The plot seemed more modern and real. The heroine, Catherine is a very well-developed character and I felt that I really got to know her - even the neurotic daydreaming side. The only complaint I have is that the ending seemed rather rushed. The conclusion of the book took maybe a chapter. I think it could have been extended and developed more thoroughly. All in all a good and easy read.

So there you have it... Out of these five novels, my personal favorite was Jodi Picoult's House Rules. I read this book quite quickly and could not put it down. I could easily go read it again right now. So House Rules will move on to the semi-finals, up against the winners from the next four groups. The eventual five to six (if I read more books than the goal) semi-final winners will then be pitted against eachother for the title of My Favorite Read of 2011. I think it will be a fun journey.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your reviews! I'm always looking for a new book. P.S. I always say, "If anyone wakes the baby it's gonna be on like Donkey Kong." It gets a good laugh around here.


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