Monday, November 14, 2011

52 Books in 52 Weeks - #8

Well I'm hard at work on Christmas and pre-Christmas gifts. The fabric store run is planned for this Saturday. Hopefully I'll be able to get everything I need and more or less have all of my shopping done. That would be LOVELY. (If any of you just heard Seth from Superbad in your head, you get points.)

Unfortunately, since most of the projects I'm working on have to be kept under wraps, the next month an a half will be some interesting posting. If you have suggestions for posts or questions that you'd like me to answer - now would be the time. I could use some genius ideas.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue on with the results of my book challenge. This is where we were last week. For those of you who missed it, last week I filed in a ton of slots by announcing some of the wild card winners.

So let's fill up another 3 slots, shall we?

This week's contestants are...

1. 1984 by George Orwell

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey

3. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

4. Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

5. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Let me just start up by saying that this is a great set of books. I'm honestly not quite sure where things will end up. I guess we'll find out...

1. 1984 by George Orwell

Finished : August 6          Rating : 3 out of 5 stars          Award : Best High School English Staple

Ah, Big Brother. We've all heard that term. And here is where it all began. Even though the book was written in 1948 (and by the way I enjoy the 48 - 84 transfiguration), it presents a very realistic view of how life could be if government is given the ultimate control. For lack of a better term, Winston Smith is a copy editor. He is employed to rewrite pieces of history - keeping the current "historical" accounts in line with activities that will prove favorable to the current political climate. The government controls everything - rations of supplies (from shoelaces to chocolate), how you can interact with others (class segregation) and what you can teach your children (think...Hitler's youth). It honestly paints a fairly terrifying picture of what could happen - and to an extent, what does happen in other countries.

Like Gatsby, this was a reread for me. I initially read it as a requirement for my 10th grade English course. I had decided that it was time to read it again now that I'm older (and hopefully wiser). The story does definitely show some parallels with life in today's political climate - in ways that have been a bother for me for some time. However, I found the writing fairly pedantic and the story didn't seem to flow as easily as it could have. I'm sure that part of it was on purpose, in order to mislead and confuse the reader, but I don't think that the approach served the plot as well as it could have. There were times when the vagueness caused more frustration than curiosity for me. Overall, not a bad read and I can understand why it is a staple for high school and college English courses. It's just not one of my favorites.

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Finished : August 7         Rating : 4 out of 5 stars          Award : Funniest Female Author

Tina Fey unleashes it all and tells stories of her life, from her youth to her years as a parent. She discusses her rise to success in the comedy field and what it took for her to become who she is. Told in small vignettes and not necessarily told in any chronological order, the story jumps around a lot and has to be read as a series of short stories rather than a flowing novel or biography.

I was torn between 3 and 4 stars for this book, but then I realized that I was only leaning towards a 3 because of some preconceived notions of what I expected to be in the book. Tina Fey is hilarious and definitely keeps the book entertaining. Honestly, my biggest problem was that I felt like I was left wanting more. I could've easily read twice as much material written by her. As it was, I finished the entire book in less than a day. That should say something about how much I enjoyed it, I suppose.

3. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Finished : August 14          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars          Award : Best Sarcasm and Snarkiness

Anthony Bourdain, the chef known well for his series No Reservations on the Travel Channel, writes of his life from how he became a chef to his rise as the head chef at one of the most prominent restaurants in New York. It is scathingly honest, he is not one to shy away from an uncomfortable topic. He is also not afraid to tell you what he thinks of someone. Though he keeps his rivals and mentors protected with pseudonyms, he does admit that anyone who knows the scene will be able to determine who each character is.

I really enjoyed this book. I love Anthony Bourdain and his punk rock, sarcastic but honest look at life. I love his snarkiness and his ability to be so incredibly blunt that there really could be no other way to say what he comes to say. I respect how brutal he can be - both with others and himself. My only criticism? Something I already knew and somewhat expected...Anthony Bourdain uses too many five-dollar words. Not having a background in either French or cuisine, there were a LOT of words that I had to look up in order to understand...not usually an issue I have with the books I read.

His writing can also be a little crude, but then again...if you know him from his television show this should not be a surprise. His stories are entertaining and reading the book actually made me want to cook more and learn more about cooking. I consider this a good sign that the book is doing what it ought to do. This is a book that I would very easily read again.

4. Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

Finished : August 18          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars          Award : Most Traumatizing

Nina Frost is a force to be reckoned with. She is a powerful assistant district attorney working hard to protect children by prosecuting child molesters and ensuring that they are punished for their actions. Nina's world is turned upside down when she discovers that her own child, five-year-old Nathaniel has become a victim of sexual abuse. The resulting chaos, confusion and stress wreak havoc on Nina's life, making her feel helpless as a mother. Her family is torn apart by the trauma of the event and she knows that she will do whatever it takes to make sure her son's abuser is taken to justice, no matter who he might be.

I'm going to start by saying that I have read too many Jodi Picoult novels. This is not a bad thing...I love her. However, when I first started reading this one, I seriously had to question whether I had read it before...turns out, no. I love her writing, but a lot of the plot lines from her different books seem to interweave - either with characters or events.

As with a lot of her books, I thought I had the whole thing figured out a quarter of the way through the book. I started truly questioning how she would keep the plot going for another 3/4ths. I should know better by now. Picoult has a knack for taking wild turns that can completely catch you off guard. She sets them up beautifully and very, very rarely do they seem far fetched. In this case, I was stopped in my tracks and have to admit that I did a little mental bowing to her mastery.

The thing I like best about her novels is how I get sucked in. They are always a quick read for me. I just can't stop once I've started. Though this one is not my absolute favorite, it is certainly worth the read.

5. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Finished : August 20          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars          Award : Most Emotionally Moving

Still Alice is a very well-written and detailed view of the life of Alice, an early-onset Alzheimer's patient. She is a brilliant professor, respected by her colleagues and mentoring a graduate student when she begins to notice small changes in her ability to find places (getting lost on her way home) and losing objects or becoming confused (winding up in her neighbor's home instead of her own). The book follows her life for a two year time period, documenting her steady decline.

I found myself emotionally involved and moved by the story, sometimes feeling as if Alice were a real person needing comfort. Lisa Genova captures Alice's struggle to accept her disease and share it with her family. she demonstrates the difficulty that faces Alice in giving up a profession she loves and in slowly losing her memories of the people closest to her.

I hurt for Alice and I found anger in the way her husband approached the illness, often abandoning her in order to save himself from the pain of the disease. I felt her loneliness and I ached for the times when she felt so utterly confused and lost.  I feared for her safety and her happiness. In short, I felt that I came to really know her.

For the most part, I absolutely loved this book. Though sad and, in the end inevitable, I could not put this book down. The only thing keeping it from 5 stars for me was a somewhat lackluster conclusion, leaving me with a feeling of emptiness and a lack of resolution. It felt as though the book was wrapped up rather hastily, as if in a hurry to get it to a publisher rather than taking the time to really keep the detail that had pulled the story along so seamlessly and see it through to the end. I really could have done with more.

The Conclusion...

Well...I promised this would be a tough one. I have been debating my decisions as I have written these reviews. I'll admit that it has not been easy. Ultimately, I am deciding by applying the question - which book would I most love to read again. That creates a fairly clear picture for me. So...without further adieu...the winner is :

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

But don't's not over yet. I still have the two wild cards to choose from this set. And so, into the running we add...

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain


Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

Those slots are just steadily filling in...
By the way, this was in no way on purpose, but I really enjoy how The Red Queen and The White Queen have ended up straight across from one another. We're getting closer and closer...


  1. Ah, if only the NCAA involved books instead of basketball, I might actually be interested. (Also, I smell foul play--it should have been bossypants!)

  2. @Shalini Have you read No Reservations? I'm telling you, it's just the right amount of snark.


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