Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

About the book:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

My views:
After hearing so much about the book (and the movie), I finally decided to pick it up. I am always vary of reading a book when there's so much hype surrounding it because I tend to expect too much from it and sometimes, there just isn't enough in the book to justify the hype.

Gone Girl was different. It started off kinda slow. Amy suddenly disappears on her fifth anniversary to Nick and while we read current happenings through his narration, in alternate chapters their back story is presented to us in Amy's voice.. through the pages of her diary. All evidences seem to be pointing towards Nick until suddenly part two starts and there are sudden twists in every tale. The book gets really interesting at this point and un-put-down-able until we reach the fag end.. Towards the end, I started losing interest in the book. The characters became very unlikeable - both of them. I kept waiting to see how it ended and I was disappointed because I didn't like the ending at all! 

But in spite of the ending (which I've heard many liked), I would recommend this book to anyone who hasn't yet read it or watched the movie..

Monday, March 24, 2014

Missed Connections

Book: Missed Connections
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall

I am a total sucker for all things (even vaguely) romantic. When I first heard of the craigslist Missed Connections project, I thought it was the coolest idea ever! Every listing is a possible love story waiting to happen. Every line is written with hope and a dash of optimism.

 Like in this post that was posted in the NY craigslist missed connections section today:
you: red/black plaid shirt, amazing blue eyes
me: green jacket, navy baseball hat, beard, yoga mat
you smiled, we mouthed "hi"....should have stayed on the train and talked to you....guess this is the next best action....hope you find it

Will the lady with the “amazing blue eyes” please ping the bearded man with the yoga mat? :)

But here’s something that makes this cool little romantic project uber cool. Sophie Blackall, a children’s book illustrator (of the Ivy and Bean books fame), found inspiration in these listings and started a little project in 2009 illustrating posts that caught her eye. 

In her blog, she writes –
Messages in bottles, smoke signals, letters written in the sand; the modern equivalents are the funny, sad, beautiful, hopeful, hopeless, poetic posts on Missed Connections websites. Every day hundreds of strangers reach out to other strangers on the strength of a glance, a smile or a blue hat. Their messages have the lifespan of a butterfly. I'm trying to pin a few of them down.

And with watercolors, amazing talent, her quirky imagination she gives life to some of the missed connections. Her whimsical paintings have a Maira Kalman feel to them. They are beautiful. And her blog went viral. And soon, the insanely popular missed connections illustrations became a charminglittle book. I have looked at the pictures on her blog but nothing matches the experience of holding the book in hand and thumbing through the pages or opening a page at random to gaze at a story – sometimes witty, sometimes slightly creepy, and sometimes heart-warming – but always delightful. 

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Reading with Laya: The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Book: The Dark
Author: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Age Range: 3 to 7 years

Book Trailer:

I love this book trailer. The minute I saw this one, I knew this was a book I HAD to read with Laya considering the fear of the dark has been one of her biggest fears!

I totally love "the dark" has been personified in this book.. A character that lives in the basement and wraps itself around the house's door and windows when the sun goes down. So whimsical! Laya could immediately relate to Laszlo ("L for Laya, L for Laszlo" was the first thing that caught her eye. "He's scared of the dark! Just like me!" was the added bonus).

And in their unique way, Snicket and Klassen show us why we don't have to be frightened of the dark.

The illustrations are fabulous and this is a great enjoyable read for both parents and kids.

And the only thing that can be better than the book is the audio version of this book narrated by Neil Gaiman himself! What more can you ask for!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: And the Mountains Echoed

Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis (from the author website):

An unforgettable novel about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else.
Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

My views:

After having immensely enjoyed Khaled Hosseini’s first two books – The Kite Runner and The Thousand Splendid Suns, I was a little cautious before starting his third and most recent book – And the Mountains Echoed. I didn’t want to expect too much and then be disappointed. But I needn’t have worried. 

And the Mountain Echoed” was a fabulous read. It had some of the characteristics of the first two books – set in war ravaged Afghanistan, a fast paced story line, grounded characters, heartfelt emotions, etc and once I had picked it up, I couldn’t stop until I finished the whole thing! But in addition to these wonderful characteristics, I felt that this book displayed a more mature writing. It wasn’t as melodramatic as the previous two books (which sometimes tended to give them an almost Bollywood-ish feel) and that was a definite bonus.

The most popular aspect of Hosseini’s first two books was the emotional connection between the central characters. In the kite runner, it was a father-son relationship that tugged at your heart. In A thousand splendidsuns, it was a mother daughter relationship that left you in tears. This book deals with sibling love. That’s the central theme of the book. In addition to the relationship between the central characters, there are evidences of various kinds of sibling (or sibling-like) love throughout the book – the caustic nature of the one shared by Parwana and Masooma, the simmering undercurrents between Idris and Timur, the positive influences of Markos and Thalia on each other, etc etc..

The writing style was interesting. The story weaved in and out of a central plot but the voice was not a constant one. Every chapter was told from the perspective of a different person. Time lines changed from the past to the present depending on the character of the chapter. It took me a while to understand get in to this style of writing and I liked it! At the beginning of every chapter, you wonder whose perspective it is and as the chapter progresses, you find out the person and then you are left to figure out how he/she will link to the central plot of the book. 

The only drawbacks (according to me) were the number of alternate storylines and the slightly overwhelming number of characters. It felt like he had way too much to say in one book. Every side story had an interesting story line, but I felt that these story lines were sometimes distractions from the central plot of the book. And some of the story lines were loose ended. Some of the strong developed characters dropped off the radar to never be seen again and that was a disappointment. And for a book as fast paced as this one, there were way too many characters introduced throughout the book. It was hard to keep track of the characters when you were moving along as such a rapid pace. 

But these were minor drawbacks and overall, this was a great read. Hosseini is a great story teller and his books are all perfect for reading while curled up on the couch with a warm beverage.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: The Dot and the Line

Title: The Dot and the line: A romance in lower mathematics
Written and Illustrated by: Norton Juster
Genre: Illustrated book, children's book, romance
Age Range: Children of all ages.

One upon time, in a lovely little world called the Lineland, there was a sensible and shy little straight line. and he fell in love. Not with another sensible shy little straight line, but for a beautiful, round dot! He loved everything about the dot. In his eyes, she was just perfect!

There was only one small hitch. She wasn't interested in him. She was already in love - with the wild and unkempt squiggle.

This book is the story of how our sensible straight line discovers a new side to himself and woos the frivolous dot. Such a charming book with the cutest illustrations and a very inspiring love story. My favorite part: the mathematics puns scattered carelessly throughout the book!

This book was also made in to an academy award winning short film.. and it is the most endearing film I have seen. 

 Buy this book from Amazon.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reading with Laya: Who wants a cheap rhinoceres?

I was browsing the library looking for an interesting book to pick up for Laya when Shel Silverstein's "Who wants a Cheap Rhinoceros?" caught my eye. Since I did not grow up reading Shel Silverstein, all the titles are new to me. But I recently read "Where the sidewalk ends" and I have been a big fan ever since.

"Who wants a cheap rhinoceros?" is a funny whimsical book. It’s basically a sales pitch for a used Rhinoceros and throughout the book we find a myriad of uses for a Rhinoceros (and his super useful horn). Did you know he’s a great back scratcher? Or that he loves to play the jump rope? Or that he can be great as an intimidating accomplice to threaten your parents in to increasing your allowance?

We have a lot of fun with this book. We spend time identifying new tasks for a possible pet Rhinoceros. And reasons why he can’t do certain tasks around the house (I’m positive coloring a princess picture with a jumbo Crayola crayon is not his forte). 

And the simple illustrations are so charming. The wild children are such a joy and the large, rather clumsy Rhinoceros is definitely lovable.

So, if you haven’t read this with your little one as yet, you most definitely should. 

And sadly, I am going to have to go back and convince a very hopeful 4-year old that as much fun as it sounds, we are not going to be able to have a pet Rhinoceros at home. And may be draft an exciting list for the things a goldfish can do instead ;)

Buy this book from Amazon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Stag's Leap

Book: Stag’s Leap
Author: Sharon Olds
Genre: Poetry
Awards: Pulitzer Prize, T S Eliot Prize
My Rating: 5 Stars
From the Publisher: In this wise and intimate new book, Sharon Olds tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.

I started reading Poetry this year as part of a challenge with my book club buddies. I have never explored this genre before and it’s safe to say I was not excited. When I looked around for poetry suggestions, one of the names I encountered multiple times was Sharon Olds. And thanks to the availability in my local library, I decided to start my Sharon Olds journey with Stag’s Leap.

 A difficult choice, as I had been rightly warned by those that have loved and enjoyed her works. Stag’s Leap is a collection of confessional poems documenting her feelings for a year after her 30 year marriage ended. And as the seasons changed, so did her emotions. We see her go through the various stages that follow the end of a relationship – from bewilderment, anger, self-blame, pain to actually accepting the end, occasional indulgences in fond remembrances, and gradually getting over someone who was almost a part of her. 

Maybe I thought I might have been over him more
by now. Maybe I’m half over who he
was, but not who I thought he was, and not
over the wound, sudden deathblow
as if out of nowhere, though it came from the core
of our life together
--Stag’s Leap. Sharon Olds.

Throughout the book, the raw emotion and searing pain is palpable. The poems and the haunting words stuck with me long after I had put the book down. I found myself (almost masochistically) going back and re-reading the sections again and again. When someone leaves you after knowing you intimately, their parting comes across almost as an accusation, a finger point of sorts. You are left to deal with the guilt and the shame of knowing that your best wasn’t good enough. And Sharon Olds describes every thought, every emotion, every feeling so accurately that it almost feels impersonal. It feels like an perspicacious outsider’s views. 

I am so ashamed to be known to be left
By the one who supposedly knew me best.
-- Known to be Left, Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds

What touched me most about her book was that it wasn’t vicious. She didn’t lash out at her husband for leaving her for another woman. This wasn’t her way of “getting back at him”. This was almost therapeutic. And it was inspiring that she wasn’t filled with anger and hatred. 

When anyone escapes, my heart
Leaps up. Even when it’s I who am
Escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver.
--Stag’s Leap, Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds

For me, this book isn’t just a description of the heartbreak following a failed marriage. It is the description of a journey from anger and disappointment to understanding and forgiveness. Love doesn’t abruptly end when a loved one leaves us and I don’t think anyone can describe it better than Sharon Olds.

And the most powerful line of the entire book is the very last one – 

I did not deceive him, he did not deceive me,
I did not leave him, he did not leave me,
I freed him, he freed me.
-- What Left?, Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reading with Laya: The Bear series by Karma Wilson

Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Age Range: 2 to 5 years

The Bear books by Karma Wilson are some of our favorite books. Every library haul HAS to have at least one Bear book these days. Every Bear book is a lot of fun to read. Bear and his friends (Mouse, Hare, Badger, Mole, Wren, Raven and Owl) have little adventures in each book. 

We started off with the Bear Feels Scared book. It was particularly relevant at that point because Laya had just started talking about being scared of the dark. In the book, Bear gets lost when he’s outside looking for a snack. It suddenly gets dark and it starts raining and he loses his way. And Bear feels scared. But soon, his friends put together a search party and go find him and then of course, in the warm company of all his friends, Bear feels safe. The book had more of an effect that I expected in making her realize that with friends and family around, she can always feel safe.

In addition to little messages like this, the Bear books help in understanding the habits of bears - their eating habits, hibernation, etc. 

The Bear books are such a joy to read out. It’s not too long (my nightmare is a lengthy nighttime read that I have to read every night – sometimes multiple times a night!), the rhyming pattern is charming and the story line is very simple and easy to follow.

The illustrations are fabulous. They are full page illustrations with the writing placed strategically so the important aspects of the picture are not hidden. Bear and his friends are so cuddly and friendly looking. We spend a lot of time gazing at each page and identifying and talking about so many different aspects of the picture.

I can’t recommend the Bear series more for kids between 2 and 5.

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