The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
(Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005, 288 pages)
I was looking for an audiobook to listen to on my drives to work when I saw The Bell Jar and noticed it was narrated by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. I like her, I like her voice, and I figured she would do the book justice so I grabbed it. This fictionalized account of events in Plath’s life follows the mental breakdown of young Esther Greenwood. We are introduced to her at 19 as she cavorts around New York City for the summer interning at a women’s magazine. Things begin to unravel as her time in New York draws to a close and she returns home. The reader experiences Esther’s breakdown from her perspective as she withdraws further and further from herself, her family, and the outside world. She can think of little else beyond escaping from this life which holds no meaning for her.
It was hard listening to this when you reflect on how much this book mirrored Plath’s life. Gyllenhaal did a great job narrating and while I remember reading this book when I was younger I was somewhat shocked at the things there were brought up in the book, especially given the time it was published (1963). I wanted to read more about Plath when this book was finished. If you’re into classic literature or perhaps haven’t had a chance to read The Bell Jar and are interested in the audiobook version, I’d recommend the one with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s narration. I’m glad I revisited the book.
Severe Clear by Stuart Woods
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012, 305 pages)
I picked up this book at our used book sale for a long plane ride. It did the trick. It’s the first book I read by Stuart Woods. While I won’t rush into reading his other books I will keep it them mind just in case. This book is the 24th in Woods’ Stone Barrington series. The story starts with the preparation of the grand opening of the Arrington hotel in Los Angles, named after Stone Barrinton’s late wife. Here’s an excerpt from a Book List review: “The Arrington will host the presidents of the U.S. and Mexico for the signing of a new trade and immigration treaty. This draws not only media but also the attention of a terrorist group who intend to bomb the new hotel. Three men are dispatched to gain employment at the Arrington, but the real threat comes from a CIA operative who plans to unleash a nuclear weapon.”
Woods’ writing style is minimal and direct. The plot is simple and straight forward. There were times I had trouble remembering and understanding the characters. But that’s expected since I wasn’t reading from the beginning of the series. There’s some good suspense but not great due to the slow-building pace. Still, Severe Clear occupied my mind and made the flight easier to bear.
Blossom Street Brides by Debbie Macomber
(Ballantine Books, 2014, 318 pages)
Debbie Macomber has won the hearts of millions of readers with her moving and inspiring stories. Now wedding bells are ringing in the tight-knit community that gathers around A Good Yarn, a store in a pretty Seattle neighborhood. Knitters come to the store to buy yarn and patterns but somehow they leave richer in friendship and love.
Lauren Elliott has waited years for her long-term boyfriend, Todd, to propose, yet he seems more focused on his career than their relationship. When Lauren learns that her younger sister is pregnant before she herself even has an engagement ring, she feels overjoyed yet disheartened. Knowing she can’t put her future on hold, Lauren prepares to make a bold choice—one that leads her to a man she never dreamed she’d meet.
This is the 11th book in the Blossom Street series. I was really excited and looking forward to reading it. It was good, but to me, not as good as the previous Blossom Street books were. If you’re looking for a good summer read, this would definitely fit the bill, though. It was just a little too predicable for me. If you love a good sappy romance, then you will love this story. This didn’t at all take away how I feel about Debbie Macomber’s writing. I thinks she’s a fantastic writer, and I love reading her books 🙂
The One by Kiera Cass
(HarperTeen, 2014, 217 pages)
The Selection is down to just a few girls and America has to finally decide between Aspen and Maxon. Aspen who is familiar and knows America better than almost anyone else or Maxon who is challenging and life would be a risk with. Every day there are more attacks on the palace from the rebels and the rebel force is gaining strength. Now there is a serious threat from the rebels that Maxon needs to end the Selection soon or more innocent people will be killed.
This was just an ok series for me. I would’ve liked the series better if just the first book was on the selection and then the rest of the series focused on life after. There could have been a lot of interesting things done if Cass had gone that direction especially with how the series ended. Also it seemed like she was trying to fill up space and time by creating these constant struggles with America, Maxon, and the King, and then pulled the rebels in to add some different tension. Then when important events did happen, they were simply skimmed over. Especially the last rebel attack and the aftermath. That was a crazy event with some serious character losses that needed to be explored further. But I will say it did hold my attention enough through two plane rides to keep me entertained.
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer
(Simon Pulse, 2012, 352 pages)
Oliver has the perfect ending every time someone reads the children’s book, Between the Lines. He gets the princess and is able to live happily ever after. Once the reader closes the book though, the characters are free to roam around the pages until another reader comes along and they have to perform the story again. But Oliver is sick of performing the story and wants to find a way out of the book. He doesn’t think he has a chance until he comes in contact with Deliah. Deliah is a high school outcast who would rather spend her time escaping into a story of a book. She thinks she’s going crazy when she hears Oliver for the first time but soon joins in his quest to escape the book.
This was very different from any other Picoult book I’ve read. First of all, her daughter came up with the idea for the story, and it is a very good idea. But the writing was just a tad too juvenile for me. I was not a fan of the text color changes depending on who was narrating that chapter but I can see how that might appeal to a younger audience. My biggest fault with the book was a pretty major flaw in the backstory. At the beginning of the book, it’s explained that Deliah is a social outcast because she broke the kneecap of the most popular girl in school. Halfway through the book, the story of how Deliah broke the girl’s kneecap completely changes as in one version it’s by an accidental baseball bat swing and in another it’s on a track course. Also in one version, the kneecap incident is before her best friend moves to town and in the other version, her best friend had already moved to town. For how big of a name Picoult is, it’s crazy to think her editors missed those.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
(Knopf, 2014, 272 pages)
Joan has always been obsessed with becoming a ballerina. But when she meets Arslan Ruskov, a world famous dancer, and helps him defect from the Soviet Union to join the dance company she is with, her obsession starts to change. Joan and Arslan date for a while but as Joan’s dancing abilities decline, so does Arslan’s interest in Joan. Heartbroken, Joan sleeps with her closest friend, Jacob, and when she finds out she is pregnant, marries Jacob and has a son, Henry. Years later, Joan and Jacob live in California and are realizing Henry is a natural ballet dancer and his hero is Arslan Ruskov. When the opportunity arises for Henry to be taught by Arslan, the history behind Arslan and Joan resurfaces.
I thought this was an interesting read. I loved reading about the politics and the crazy challenges that are involved behind ballet, especially involving the Soviet Union. The stories that were included about how different dancers defected from the Soviet Union to come to the United States and how that affected them were intriguing and probably not a stretch from what really happened to people. The author told the story through a series of time jumps that seemed to be in no particular sequence order but worked for slowly revealing important aspects of the characters. The result was a sort of sick web that connected the characters to each other but a good read.
Somerset by Leila Meacham
(Grand Central Publishing, 2014, 624 pages)
In this prequel to Roses, Meacham tells the story of how the Tolivers, Warwicks, and DuMonts first came to Texas and the start of the Toliver curse. After Silas Toliver’s father died, the entire plantation and estate was given to his older brother. Silas’s dream was always to be able to stand and look out onto his plantation and fields of cotton and call it his own. So him and his best friend, Jeremey Warwick, hatch a plan to take a wagon trail to the new territory of Texas to settle their own land. But when Silas runs into money trouble, he makes a deal to satisfy his own greed and begins the Toliver curse.
I enjoyed this prequel to Roses but it’s been so long since I read Roses that I’m sure there were some references or foreshadowing that I missed. The family charts helped at the beginning but it also spoiled the twist that happens about 150 pages into the story. My favorite character was Jessica because of how strong she was and how she always stuck to what she believed in, even when her family is about to shun her or when everyone in town, including her husband, disagrees with her beliefs. She reminded me a lot of Mary in Roses except unlike Mary who would do anything for the plantation, Jessica would do anything for her beliefs in human rights. I like that Meacham went back to do a prequel of the families to show the history and the beginning to the Toliver curse, but I can’t decide if I would recommend to read Roses first because it is the stronger book or Somerset to get the family history if a reader was looking to begin the series.