Thursday, April 25, 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

In Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler introduces the world to the little known counterpart of F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife.  The book is a fictional story that is rooted in detailed research.  The story centers around the ill-fated couple, but it also documents life during prohibition and the Jazz Age- a time when New York and France were brimming with contemporary artists such as Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.  Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were the "golden couple" of their time, but behind closed doors (and often publicly as well) there was a different story to tell.

With the release of the new Gatsby movie looming, I thought it was the perfect time to read this book. Zelda Fitzgerald was a woman born before her time. She was artistic and bold, and married to a man that both loved and hated her for it. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's story is a tragic one. There has long been question as to which of them was responsible for the ruin of their lives. Fowler did a very nice job of staying in the middle and letting the readers decide for themselves. I tend to find myself on Team Zelda, but then I realize that a saw a bit of myself in her. Though she was certainly an unusual and outstanding woman, Zelda was simply trying to do what all women want to do- to find yourself, to leave something for the world to remember you by, to be a good wife and mother, to mean something.  This book is a fabulously written piece of historical fiction.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the summer of 1922, 29 year old Nick Carraway has just moved from Minnesota to New York.  Nick rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island.  West Egg is mostly populated with the newly rich who do not have many social connections and tend to find ways to elaborately display their wealth.  Jay Gatsby, Nick's next door neighbor is known for his extravagant weekly parties that are overflowing with alcohol and people Gatsby doesn't know.  In contrast, East Egg is a very fashionable area that is home to the more established upper class. While Nick lives in West Egg, he has family connections in East Egg and decides to pay them a visit shortly after moving to New York.  Daisy Buchanan (Nick's cousin) and her husband Tom are the exact representation of those living in East Egg.  They are extremely wealthy and seem to be living the "American Dream."  While Daisy and Tom appear to be happy and content, Nick soon learns that Tom is having an affair.  

Soon after his visit with Tom and Daisy, Nick is invited to one of Gatsby's famous parties.  He knows no one at the party until he runs into Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy's.  This is also where Nick meets Gatsby for the first time.  Nick and Gatsby end up becoming friends and Nick discovers that Gatsby and Daisy were lovers before he went off to war and Gatsby has moved to West Egg with the sole purpose being to rekindle his lost love with Daisy.  

My Thoughts:
The Great Gatsby is one of those books I was supposed to read in high school, but didn't.  I didn't become an avid reader until I was in college, so I regrettably read the Cliff Notes instead of the actual book.  I decided that I was going to read this book before the new movie came out.  I read it in just a couple sittings and found myself very intrigued with the story and the characters.  They all seemed to be pursuing wealth and social status with the idea that it would bring them joy and happiness.  I love how F. Scott Fitzgerald shatters this idea by showing a group of people who are wealthy and have a great social standing, but are ultimately unhappy.  The Great Gatsby is by no means a story that makes you warm and fuzzy inside, but it is a story that shows how, in and of themselves, the pursuit of wealth and prestige will not make us happy.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Every so often I read a book that is so good I have trouble writing a review about it.  Will I do the book justice?  Can I convince you in just a couple short paragraphs that this book should be moved to the top of your "to read" pile?  Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is one of those books.  I hope my words will be enough to persuade you.  

Sixteen year old Eleanor has just moved back home after spending a year living with an acquaintance of her mother. She was kicked out of her childhood home by her abusive, alcoholic stepfather and he has finally allowed her to live with them again.  While she was away, her family moved into her stepfather's house and she now has to share a room with her four siblings. On her first day at her new school, Eleanor's appearance begs for her to picked on. Her clothes are too big and have holes in them. Her hair is curly and extremely red. She almost instantly receives the nickname "Big Red" due to her red hair and the fact that she is a "big girl." When she gets on the bus no one wants her to sit with them.  No one except Park.  Park is a half-Asian boy who wears eyeliner, listens to punk rock, and reads comics on the bus.  He initially allows Eleanor to sit with him because he feels sorry for her.  For their first few weeks as seatmates they do not speak to one another and are sure to maintain six inches between them.  Then Park discovers that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder.  He begins bringing comic books for her to borrow.  They finally begin talking to one another, discovering they share a love for music as well as comics.  Park soon finds that he is drawn to Eleanor and that her weirdness makes him like her all the more. Eleanor can't figure out why Park likes her.  All she knows is that he makes her feel safe and she can't wait to see him each morning.

My Thoughts: 
Eleanor and Park is one of those books that keeps you thinking about the characters and their experiences long after the final pages. This coming of age story is about first loves and all the obstacles we have to overcome to find ourselves.  As I read, I couldn't help but think about how the story reminded me of John Green's books.  They convey a similar message: The world is not always pretty, but hopefully some happiness can be found along the way.  And don't let the young adult label stop you from reading this one.  This story has no age limit. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Iron House by John Hart

Growing up in the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, brothers Julian and Michael learn life's hard lessons fast. When a brutal murder occurs, older brother Michael takes the blame to save his brother and flees the home. Living on the city streets, Michael joins a life of organized crime. As a respected and feared member of the community, Michael thrives until he meets Elena and they decide to start a family. Michael quickly learns that leaving "the family" that he already has is not so simple. With a price on his head Michael must return to the terrors of his childhood home and once again save his brother and all that he loves.

Iron House is a non-stop thriller from start to finish, fast moving and well written. At the root of the story there is an old mystery to unravel and Hart weaves the clues into the storyline perfectly. I really enjoyed this book and found it difficult to put down. It's a story that will haunt the corners of your mind for a long time. A warning: there are some very graphic and brutal scenes in this book. If you are squeamish you might want to skip it, but I didn't think it took too much away from the story.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Set in North Carthage, Missouri, Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne.  The novel begins on Nick and Amy's fifth wedding anniversary.  Nick leaves for work the morning of their anniversary only to soon be called back home by a neighbor who has suspicions about happenings at the Dunne house.  Nick returns home to find the house torn apart and Amy missing.  Upon investigation, the North Carthage police determine that Amy has most likely been murdered.  Nick declares his innocence but all of the evidence points to him, including Amy's diary that gives a whole new perspective to their relationship. 

Erienne's Review:  
I love a good mystery.  From the very beginning of Gone Girl I tried my best to figure out what happened to Amy and whether or not Nick fell into the typical "husband kills his wife" category.  Alternating chapters tell the story from Nick and Amy's (via her diary entries) perspectives. As I read, I couldn't decide whose side I was on. Was Nick guilty?  Did he really kill his wife on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary? Gone Girl isn't your typical "who did it" story and the twists throughout the novel will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat. You definitely don't want to miss this one! 

Sarah's Review:
This book really got under my skin. First of all, I am one that always figures out the ending of a book long before it happens, but I could not guess where this book was headed. It might be one of the best mysteries I have ever read. Just as Erienne said, I couldn't figure out who's side I was on. The problem was I didn't like either character. I thought they were both nuts! If you haven't read this book yet, go get it today. It's like a literary roller coaster ride!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

College freshman, Abby Abernathy decided to attend Eastern University in attempts to escape her past life in Wichita, Kansas.  Abby adopts a sophisticated, prim and proper look when she arrives at Eastern with the hope that the old Abby will not resurface.  Things are going great until Abby meets Travis Maddox, Eastern's   "bad boy".  Travis "Mad Dog" Maddox is a tattooed, fist fighting, motorcycle rider.  He earned his "Mad Dog" title as a bare knuckled fighter in an underground fighting ring held at different basement locations throughout campus.  Travis also has a reputation for one-night-stands and Abby initially wants nothing to do with him.  Despite her attempts to ward him off, Travis convinces Abby that he only wants to be friends.  They become best friends and rumors quickly begin to circulate about Abby being the first girl Travis hasn't had sex with and then ditched.  Travis and Abby's attraction for one another begins to increase and Abby is terrified that Travis will cause her to go back to being the person she once was.  

My Thoughts: 
I first learned about Beautiful Disaster when I saw it on the New York Times Best Seller List.  The synopsis seemed interesting, so I thought I would give it a try.  It was a quick read with a fast moving plot.  In a number of articles I read, Beautiful Disaster was likened to Fifty Shades of Grey.  While I see the similarities, I am a little hesitant to compare the two.  While Fifty Shades of Grey has a interesting plot, I feel that it was much more about the sex scenes than the actual story.  Beautiful Disaster is more about the relationship between Abby and Travis and how they both fight to overcome their difficult pasts.  They do have a sexual relationship, but this is by no means the focal point of the story. If you are a fan of  "bad boy" and innocent girl story lines, this book will definitely appeal to you.  

Note: Beautiful Disaster is told from Abby's perspective. Jamie McGuire has just released a another novel, Walking Disaster which tells the story from Travis' perspective.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly lives a life of poverty in the Ozark Mountains. She bares responsibility for her two brothers and her sick mother. On a cold winter day Ree learns that her father has skipped bail on charges for cooking crystal meth. If he doesn't return her family will lose their home and all they have. Ree's only choice is to navigate the dark underbelly of her extended family and bring her father home- dead or alive. 

Winter's Bone is ultimately a coming of age story, dark and gritty. It paints a portrait of the harsh realities of a subculture that is so far detached from the rest of the world it is hard to believe that it exists, but it truly does.  Ree's character is strong and relentless. The story is moving and beautiful, though very bleak. This is definitely not a light read, but one that shouldn't be missed. Woodrell does such an excellent job of painting the landscape that you will feel the chill of the Ozark air inside and out. I recommend curling up with this one on a cold winter night with a very warm blanket.