‘Til Death Do Us Part- Kate White (7/32 2017 Reading Challenge)

1

Baily Wiggins is a reporter dealing with “crime stories.” One day, when she’s cozy at her New York apartment she gets a call from Ashley, a fellow bridesmaid at the wedding that had taken place almost a year before. It turns out that Ashely has some disturbing news. Apparently, two other bridesmaids – out of six – died in weird accidents over the past six months. Ashely fears that they were murdered, and that she and Baily are the next ones to go. Baily starts an investigation, which will lead her to an unexpected discovery.

So, first thing I must say is that I disliked the protagonist – and her colleague, Ashley, as well – from the first 3 pages. I mean, someone calls you in the middle of a blizzard, says she has something important to tell you, but only face-to-face, and what do you do? Change your plans immediately, and go out into the blizzard to wherever they want to meet you.

Nope, not me. If I got a “I have to tell you something important right away” call, I’d say, “Then, come along to the coffee place that’s nearest to my apartment.” Not the other way round.

That’s of course a very minor thing of the book, but since it got me to dislike and roll my eyes over the main character from the get-go, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Other than that, I still remember my creative writer’s rule to say something nice about the book/piece of writing. However, I’m going to be rebellious on this one and will list things I did NOT like about this book:

– The protagonist, towards whom I never got any warmer feelings,

– Constant describing of what the characters were wearing, eating, and what kind of make-up they were wearing,

– Payton Cross – the bride at the (in)famous wedding, for which Bailey and Ashely were bridesmaids – being described practically as a “bitch” and having no other (redeeming) qualities. I mean, why would anyone be ever her friend,

– The fact that not too much was going on, and when something WAS – it was treated very randomly and quickly solved,

– The unfulfilled potential of showing how Baily was in constant fear, and how lonely she must have felt, as nobody believed her,

– The constant summary of things, instead of getting into real action,

– Failed attempt at humor, because it’s so funny that a person who works as a dietitian will eat healthy,

– Constant reminders of how ugly the bridesmaids’ dresses were,

– Her going to Florida for practically nothing – and super conveniently having an interview there, so her company (newspaper she worked for) could pay for the trip,

– Bailey’s breaking up with Jack – ooppss, SPOILERS – for no valid reason.

            And well, yeah, let’s list one thing I DID like – who the murdered was. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming, but I still thought it was a good surprise and tied all together.

            All in all, wouldn’t recommend. It’s not completely bad, either – written quite decently, and with a nice ending. It’s probably just that it’s “women’s literature” – or, if you mean, a chick flick – with a little bit of a crime story, and I was expecting, well, a crime story.

            Should have known after The Sixes.

My Rating 4/10

Just Listen – Sarah Dessen (6/32 2017 Reading Challenge)

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Annabel has everything in life – she’s a popular cheerleader, surrounded by popular friends. And, she works as a model. Until one day, after an incident at the party, her friends turn their backs on her, and she becomes a school’s recluse. Fortunately, she makes friends with an original loner and a music freak, Owen, who shows her the world of sounds. And teaches her that the truth is what matters and that she shouldn’t be afraid to speak up, because when she does, people will listen.

                The cover of the Polish edition promises me that the book is about “school, popularity, and rivalry.” Of course, there’s that. But I’d say that (fortunately) it’s about much more. Firstly, we have a family portrait. A family, where nobody speaks about their feelings, but hides in their rooms whenever something is wrong. A family with two older sisters, mother prone to depression and a quiet, withdrawn father. This family is what made the protagonist the way she is. Careful with hurting other people’s feelings and determined to fulfil her mother’s wishes to be nice to everyone.

                It’s dangerous to be nice all the time, as Annabel finds out. We may lose ourselves in the constant efforts to please other people. We may forget and get confused on not only what we want, but who we are as a person. Not speaking up is frustrating and white lies are sometimes worse than the truth.

                Owen teaches the protagonist that the truth is always best, even when it hurts. Because it hurts yourself more when you’re living a life that’s not what you planned. Ultimately, it may lead to depression and isolation. Finally, the book tells that it’s important to speak up, to tell what happened and not be afraid or ashamed. That people will listen and some, if not all, will understand.

                Basically, it’s some version of “The truth will set you free.”

So, the book wasn’t perfectly written or too sophisticated. Despite dealing with some important subjects (like accepting ourselves, and learning to be assertive), and important & dark topics – (rape, anorexia), it didn’t have that heavy feeling there might be associated with such topics. Instead, it was hopeful and even light in tone. I read it in approximately one day – it read really smoothly.

                The one thing I didn’t like is the protagonist. I understood her, I sympathized with her, but I wasn’t a fan. Not because she was just always nice to everyone – I can definitely relate to that! Not because she didn’t have courage to tell about what happened to her on the party, where her ex-friend’s boyfriend tried to rape her. That is definitely understandable. But because she was friends with Sophia in the first place. Sophia is the books version of the “mean girl” of high school. She’s manipulative, but exciting. Her moods change all the time, but she’s fun to be around (when she’s in a good mood). She’s self-confident and she knows what she wants and grabs it. But she also makes fun of other people, and is vindictive. I couldn’t understand why Annabel kept being friends with her for four years.

                Except for that, I have a feeling characters in that book were a little too one-dimensional, and sometimes cliché. From the reviews I read, most readers loved Owen. I can understand why. Tall, dark, handsome, reformed bad-boy. It has its appeal, even to me. But, for half the time he annoyed the hell out of me. I thought he was a “know-it-all,” and I suspect I would have disliked most of his music, too. Maybe I’m just not that smart to understand music on deeper level? Yeah, well.

                And there’s Sophie. She’s totally unbelievable. Mostly because, she doesn’t seem like a real person. She seems to possess all the bad qualities and not to possess too many of the good ones. In real life it’s always more complicated, but here Sophia’s inner life is almost completely ignored. And I just ain’t buyin’ that. Moreover, it’s sad that the author doesn’t dig deeper into Sophia’s problems with her family – they are only briefly mentioned.

                There’s one more “elephant in the room” for me. The book bears a striking resemblance to Speak by Laurie H. Anderson. Speak is a YA book that I think isSpeak! one of the best written I’ve ever read, so another book about more or less the same subject – well, the bar was high. And Just Listen didn’t get close enough.

                That said, I’m not criticizing the book completely. It reads fast, deals with important subjects, and has a relatable protagonist (except for the modelling business). For a Young Adult flick, it’s quite all right and worth reading.

My Rating 6/10

The Survivors’ Club – Lisa Gardner (5/32 2017 Reading Challenge)

               1 Jillian, Carol and Meg are all victims of College Hill Rapist. They form a club, and call it the Survivors’ Club – they don’t like to be called victims. Now, after they had helped the police to put the rapist/murdered in jail, he gets killed, and they – get to be the first suspects. Could they have been driven to murder, or is there more to the story than it seems?

                Of course there is. The story is much more complicated than it seems. The characters are very well-written and complex, and I liked how the point of view was switching chapter by chapter. Then, there’s Griffin, the hot policeman with past trauma, which makes him more interesting. The girls themselves are also fun to read about, and make you root for them. And it’s great that they can form lasting friendship despite being completely different.

                So far so good, but it wasn’t all stars for this book. Some things I didn’t like – really implausible ending, that made me ask questions of “how much sperm does one guy leave in the bank sperm?” or “what exactly does it mean that DNA almost match? Shouldn’t it just match?” Bu maybe I just don’t know something.

                The other thing is that at times it dragged for too long, unnecessarily. I was skipping some fragments, just to get to the actual action, and I got tired of some repeatedly described feelings/thoughts.

                I’d still say it was quite good. The ending was surprising, as it should be in a suspense novel. The pacing was quite good – for most parts of the book – and the characters well-developed.

                Oh, and one more thing – the very last scene, where they were all together. Sweet, so sweet. However – too corny, and as much as most of the dialogue seemed real, here seemed too forced and fake.

                My rating – 6/10

Beat the Reaper – John Bazell (4/32 Reading Challenge)

              przechwytywanie  Peter Brown is an intern at the worst hospital in Manhattan. He also has a secret – he used to be a killer for the mafia, but after a conflict with them, he turned to the police and became a part of Federal Witness Relocation Program in exchange for some useful information about his former bosses. Now his past comes back to haunt him, when someone recognizes him at the hospital. Peter realizes that only hours or minutes can be between him and death.

                Beat The Reaper is written from two perspectives – one chapter is in the present, the next is in the past. Both parts are equally entertaining, and both are treated with the same dose of great dark humor. Its gruesome, and filled with sharp dialogue, so only lovers of good old dark humor will enjoy it. It’s also filled with action, and mind you – you never know what’s around the next corner.

                The medical staff included in the book was an interesting addition. The ending seemed a little rush, but there was a great medical twist, so I can forgive that.

                All in all, the books was amazing. And amazingly irreverent. Sometimes totally ridiculous, sometimes disturbing, but a page-turner at all times. Despite the dark topic, it was a relief after We need to talk about Kevin. It was irreverent, and funny, and unique, and all a dark comedy should be. Recommended.

My Rating – 7/10

Lionel Shriver – We Need to Talk About Kevin (Reading Challenge 2017, 2/32)

               kevin2 Every monster has a mother. This is a story about one of them.

                Kevin was 16 years old when he murdered 7 of his classmates and 2 adults. Nobody really knew why. Everyone was wondering, but nobody had the real answer. And mind you, neither do we, readers, after reading this long, wonderful novel.

                It’s written in the form of letters that Eva, Kevin’s mother, writes to her estranged husband, Franklin. She tells him about her every-day life and chance encounters with mother of one the murdered kids. About her visits to the prison, to see Kevin. But, she also tells him about their life together – and her point of view on that life. She recollects and vividly describes every single thing she thinks is important to understand Kevin and his actions. She starts at time from before Kevin was born, and goes to Thursday, where Kevin committed the murder. I guess Eva wants to understand her own actions and find the answer to the question everybody’s always asking in such cases – is this my fault? Is it the parents’ fault? Is it the mother’s fault?

                We never find out. It’s not a novel that would give answers, or any sense of completion. It’s not a novel that justifies anything. On the contrary, it touches deeply hidden instincts, brings out the most difficult questions, and presents issues we like to forget, or pretend they don’t exist. Like, what if the mother can’t love her own child? What if she’s tired and not able to form a bond with him or her?

                The issue of unwanted pregnancy and then maternity seems to prevail in the whole novel, but is not the only one. Eva agrees to have her first child at a late age of 37, and when she does, it’s mostly for her husband. There is one thing she is sure of – she loves her husband and wants to make him happy. If he thinks their life is empty without a child, so be it. After initial hesitation, she manages to convince herself that’s what she wants. Only to regret it at some deep level, almost immediately. She feels trapped while pregnant. She feels trapped as a mother. They all told her that when the child is born, something “unimaginable happens.” Something that cannot be described. Something mothers feel instantly. She waits for it – and it never happens for her. Not with Kevin. She gave birth to a child, to whom she didn’t feel a thing right from the start.

                It’s not that she didn’t try. She did everything she could and she was told to. But Kevin was a difficult baby. He would either cry for endless periods of time, or keep quiet at all times. He didn’t get much easier with time, either. He was deeply disturbed, but also very lonely and very intelligent. From Eva’s point of view, he was manipulative, and never let his father know what he really was like – a confused, angry, depressed, unfeeling child and teenager. But that’s the thing with this novel – we only get Eva’s point of view. So, even though she doesn’t hide anything, and is always brutally honest, and doesn’t even justify herself, we are still left with a question: do we trust her? Her judgment of the situation? Do we trust that she doesn’t lie to herself, and makes her believe things?

                And then we have the father. The oblivious, childlike father, who would always find an excuse for Kevin. Eva was the one who saw evil in her own child, but Franklin was the one who never thought Kevin did anything wrong. As much as Eva loved Franklin, I disliked him. I wanted to shake him and yell to get some help for the child before it’s too late. But Franklin didn’t. He believed till the very end that their son, his flesh and blood, was just a normal teenager. So, he wore diapers till the age of six, and he had problems speaking. So, he wasn’t invited to playdates, and almost no nanny was able to survive taking care of him. These things happen. So, the nanny left. So, he didn’t want to give diapers up. But he did give them up, right? So, we’re still one big happy American family.

                It’s just that Eva never told Franklin how she got Kevin to give the diapers up.

kevinWe are coming to the topic of evil itself. It might have been because Eva rejected Kevin at the very beginning, and – as an intelligent and instinctive child – he always felt it at some level. But what if he really was evil? We want to believe that nobody is born evil, that bad people are just unhappy people who were hurt early in life. That circumstances made them murder, or steal. That they are mentally ill. What if they’re not? What if somebody just feels so deeply the hopelessness of life that they think only murder can do anything for them? What if somebody just doesn’t have any empathy?

                The book is also a criticism of modern age Western countries – I’d say not only America. A country where people are not starving –at least, not the way they do in Africa. A country, where you can have anything you want – if you have money. Everything, but love. Everything, but sense of life. Everything, but sense of anything being worth pursuing. How many of you have heard of Ted Bundy, serial killer? I have. Do you know the name of his victim? Just one? I don’t.

                That’s the reason Kevin gives. If you want to be famous, you can always try to be an actress, or publish a book and be the next J. K. Rowling. But this requires hard work, planning, practicing, lots of disappointments, and is never by any means a sure thing. But if you kill a few people, especially when you’re original and will NOT do it with a gun, you’re instantly famous. You’re the Next Big Thing and they’re doing interviews with you. Asking for your childhood, for your reasons, for your thoughts, for everything.

                We Need to Talk About Kevin is not just a novel. It’s a great piece of literature. It is one of the best books I’ve read recently. It may be one of the best books I read at all. But it’s a difficult one. Disturbing and unforgiving. Brutally honest, and cruel. It’s a book where a woman will tell you that she’s not surprised when children go nuts and kill other children, but pure goodness of her own daughter is the biggest surprise for her. Anything somebody ever does for good, for no interest at all, is a surprise for her. Finally, it’s an important book in the era of people killing people. Regardless of the reasons, regardless of circumstances, it’s there. Thirst for blood. Hatred. Sense of hopelessness. This book will drain you, and will make you feel sorry for humankind. Maybe even ashamed.

                But maybe that’s the way we should feel.

My rating: 10/10

Alice Hoffman – The Museum of Extraordinary Things (Reading Challenge 2017 – 1/32)

               museum So, apparently Alice Hoffmann is a „beloved writer of America” – and still, this is the first time I heard of her. I was looking for something for my 2016 challenge – something that was published in 2016. This turned out, however, to have been translated into Polish in 2016, and published in Poland in 2016. Originally published earlier, so not good for my challenge. But got me interested enough to get to my “to read” list.

                Coralie’s father is an eccentric owner of “museum of extraordinary things.” He collects them and puts them up on display. Among them there are also humans – a man-wolf, or a girl-butterfly. And Coralie, a girl-mermaid, born with extra skin between her fingers. Thought to swim ever since she was a baby, and to hold her breath under water for more than any other human, she is first displayed at the age of 10. But every new “miracle” shown in the museum gets boring after some time and then Coralie, trained to do anything her father tells her to, gets new role.

                Then there is Eddie, a Ukrainian Jew, who fled Ukraine together with his father, after their village had been attacked and Eddie’s mother murdered. He was working since he was 8 years old – with his father, they lived in poor conditions, and Eddie got to know the dark side of life at the very young age. His meeting with a famous photographer changed him, and he became obsessed with photography.

                Set in the early XX century in New York, this is a magical story of love between two people coming from completely different places; two people that should probably never have met. Coralie has to flee from his father and her life as his slave, and Eddie must come to terms with his past and forgive his father. Their love gives them strength and allows them to create their own little world, where nobody has to be a slave anymore.

                Where should I start? With New York, of course. New York, that is presented as a magical, beautiful place. But alongside all the magic, human tragedies happen every day. Like people being forced to work long hours in terrible conditions, for minimal wage. The story is set while the first protests of labor workers began. Eddie gets a chance to photograph an aftermath of an (in)famous fire in a factory where young women were working. They couldn’t escape, because the owners – who did manage to flee – had closed the doors. So, they either jumped and died, or burned to death. This tragedy is still widely remembered, and was a big and important step towards better conditions of work, played a significant role in creating and operating of unions. And, no matter how weird it may sound, that was my favorite part of the book. All the historic moments, all the descriptions of what New York looked like, and how people used to live then and there, were my favorite parts.

                Another thing I liked was the tone of the book. It was prose, but at most times seemed just like poetry. Sad, melancholic, depressing, beautiful poetry. This is not a book that is read for the action, but for those words, and for the mastery of creating this different universe, wonderful, but so terribly sad at the same time. At these times when I felt this atmospheric writing, I could understand what it means that Alice Hoffman is “a beloved writer.” She can enchant with her writing, with her words, with her poetry-like story-telling.

                This story is also about humankind, and of being different. About loneliness. Fighting, and fear, and trying to find one’s place in the world, all the while knowing that – because of our differences, weirdness, if you may – that we may never find it. Story is set in times that are dangerous for everyone who’s not strong, and at least a little bit different than mainstream. But it also bring to my mind a question – “Has there ever been a time where it wasn’t dangerous to be different? Has or will it ever be a time where you don’t have to be strong to be different?” The book doesn’t give the answer, but it does give some sort of sense of completion and hope at the end. Like in fairy tales, love conquers all.

                The fairy tale tone of the book is the only thing that saved me being completely furious at the “love-at-first-sight” thread. Have I mentioned I hate those? Well, I do. In this book we have a very annoying example of that. Seriously. No words exchanged, and they knew they were meant for each other. But, somehow, it doesn’t bother me as much as it would in a different book. Probably because of all this magical, poetic, fairy-tale like tone. I can’t, however, not add, that it’s kind of ironic, that in a book that describes people’s cruelty so vividly, there is a place for people’s love – and not just any love. Pure love. No doubt love. Destined for each other love.

                On the whole, the book is full of contrasts. It describes poor, hopeless districts, but it also describes parts of the city that were full of life and glamour. It describes the life of immigrants very realistically, and showing great empathy. Shows violence and pursuit of power, craziness and obsession, longing for understanding, finding a soul mate. And in the middle of it all, we have two lost souls; young love. Alongside all this brutality and cruelty, there’s still a place for love and hope.

My rating: 8/10

(Outside of) 2016 Reading Challenge

So, it’s the second half of January and I still haven’t written what my challenge is about. But, all in due time (sort of!).

                First, a little list of books I read outside of 2016 Challenge and books I started to read, but didn’t complete.

  1. caseyCasey Watson – A Last Kiss for Mummy – Another book of Britain’s most famous foster mom. This time it tells a story of Emma, a fourteen year old foster child with an infant on her lap. Casey and her family form a bond with Roman, Emma’s baby, immediately, but with Emma herself, a process is longer and harder. As Crying for Help, the story is heartbreaking, and Casey seems like an angel wanting to help all those hurt kids. Also as before, the literary value is not that big. But I can forgive, because of the admiration I feel for every good foster family.
  2. el paso de la helice.PNGSantiago Pajares – El paso de la hélice – Not sure if that was translated into English. The Polish title is “Książka, kórej nie ma”, which means “A book that doesn’t exist”. My Spanish is not that great to grasp the meaning of the original title – the best I have is “A step of the spiral.” Yeah, well. A story about the bestselling series of books, and the search for the mysterious author, who fails to provide the last part. A story about a book that touches and changes lots of people’s lives? What more can I want? Some clichés, true, but still – great read.
  3. Maria Czubaszeknienachalna-z-urodyNienachalna z urody –– Maria Czubaszek, recently deceased, was a Polish writer, satirist, journalist and more. A woman of many talents. But, I shamefully admit, that for me she’s “the woman who openly said she had abortions when she was younger.” Don’t get me wrong, though. I absolutely mean it in a good way. We need more women who would openly say they had abortions. That said, the book was just her thoughts on life, marriage, friendship, people. Her own, I mean. Her life, her marriage, and her friendships with people. But, through her book we can see also ourselves; she’s talking about things people think, but not too many say out loud. Enjoyable funny and a surprisingly fast read – surprisingly, for I usually don’t like non-fiction books. But I guess an exception proves the rule and all this crap. Oh, and the title could sort of be translated to Unimposing Beauty.
  4. a-hatred-for-tulipsRichard Lourie – A Hatred for Tulips – a great psychological drama, about war and its effects on people, and especially about one boy with a great desire to make his father proud of him. The only one who deserves a full review, which I will get into later.

Some of those I started, but didn’t manage to finish:

  1. before-i-go-to-sleepJ. Watson – Before I go to Sleep – This had potential. Really did. The trailer also had potential. I actually thought it was going to be phenomenal. So what went wrong? Maybe my expectations were too high. The story is about a woman with a rare disease – every time she falls asleep, she forgets her past when she wakes up. She keeps a diary to help her memory, but the diary tells her not to trust her husband.” She’s trying to figure out what’s going on, but it’s hard when you keep on forgetting everything you’ve learnt every time you go to bed. Okay, so one more time – what went wrong? I didn’t think it was too far-fetched. I just thought it was boring. Every day she would wake up and we would get yet another description of how she can’t remember he previous day and about how she’s surprised at her appearance – that she’s so much older than she remembers. I have a weird feeling that this might turn out to be quite existing if I had patience to wait/read that long.
  2. american gods.PNGNeil Gaiman – American Gods – This was supposed to be my “Book published in America.” What better book to put in the challenge under “published in America” than about American gods? But it turned out to be too mundane, complicated, and after around 150 pages I felt it didn’t make sense. And since it had a few hundreds more pages to go….
  3. spod kołdry.PNGLuke Bradbury – Undercover – An Australian guy comes to London and as a way to make some quick cash, he decided to sleep with women for money. You know, a male prostitute. Initially it was interesting, enough to ignore the style, which was… not so good. But then it became repetitive and quote dull, honestly, so I didn’t waste my time.