Archive for ‘Book Reviews’

May 29, 2013

Love for The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby: The Book

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby has been my favorite book since the first time I read it in high school. I don’t really know why. I guess it’s the way one person can be so completely consumed with something that it takes over his entire life, controls his every move. It’s fascinating to me, even though I can’t relate to it. I’ve never felt so driven by that kind of desire that it creates the basis of my identity.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby and his undying love for Daisy Buchanan, the girl from his youth whom he fell in love with, but never quite felt good enough for. As a result, he spent his life creating a world of abundant riches and gross luxury. He amassed great amounts of wealth in hopes that he could lure her back to him, despite the fact that she’d already married someone else. He spends his days wheeling and dealing and his nights hosting ridiculously lavish and exceedingly wild parties at his “castle” across the bay from Daisy’s house, hoping to catch her attention and pique her interest.

I relate more to the character of Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, who is on the outskirts of all the drama, but seemed to be unwillingly sucked into it. He’s an observer of it all and pretty much the only one who walks away more or less unscathed (despite the movie’s assessment that he winds up in a sanitarium…which isn’t far out of the realm of possibility). I can relate to Nick because I’ve never enjoyed being the center of attention. I’ve always been more of an observer, a sideliner, and when I find myself somehow in the midst of it all, I’m extremely uncomfortable and don’t really know what to do with myself.

And then there’s Daisy.  The perfectly poised girl of Gatsby’s dreams, donned always in white, from her dresses to her house to her car. She’s the “innocent, pure and perfect” girl Gatsby remembers her to be.  She’s also extraordinarily selfish, has mood swings like to worst PMS you can imagine and keeps everyone she knows just at arm’s length so no one ever realizes she’s such a complete confused mess.

I think what I love most about this book is the extreme use of symbolism. Fitzgerald’s use of color alone speaks more about his characters and the world they live in than anything they could say. One of the (seven or so) times I read this book, I circled all the colors. Every page has at least one circle. And my very favorite of all of those symbols is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. It basically embodies Daisy herself: the jealousy Gatsby feels that he doesn’t have her, the great wealth Daisy herself possesses and a beacon not just for incoming boats, but also for Gatsby himself. “Here’s Daisy!” it says, and gave him something to look at when he couldn’t look at her.

My second favorite symbol is the billboard eyes of T.J. Eckleburg. Even in the 1920s, America’s values were deteriorating. Money was valued over morals and these eyes, “dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground” in the place of a God that had long been removed from American life. They were simply an advertisement for an optometrist in Queensborough, but in the world of Gatsby, they were as good as God watching over those who had replaced their belief in God with a belief in wealth.

I think F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book transcends time. You can see the same paradigms today that he wrote about almost 100 years ago. I think that’s part of why it remains such a great story, and why it made such a great movie.

The Great Gatsby: The Movie

gatsby movie

I’m not going to say too much about the movie except that I LOVED IT.

I had lowish expectations when I heard that The Great Gatsby was going to be turned into a movie again. The first couple versions I saw left quite a bit to be desired. When I heard Baz Luhrmann was behind it, my confidence increased a touch. If anyone can recreate the Jay Gatsby of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s creation, it’s Baz Luhrmann.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Not even a little bit. The story wasn’t changed, with the exception of putting Nick in a sanitarium, but I thought that added to the story. It was the perfect vehicle with which to tell the story on screen.

The biggest problem I’ve had with previous movies is the downplaying of the character of Gatsby. Gatsby is loud. Colorful. Vivacious. His personality is huge. His parties are huger. And other video versions of Gatsby have been simply watered down. Leonardo DiCaprio did Gatsby right. He threw so much personality into the character that you could actually believe in him.

I also thought Carey Mulligan did an exceptional job at portraying Daisy. She was just standoffish enough, just catty enough, just rude and condescending and completely wishy washy enough.

Overall, the movie followed the book, sometimes even word for word, and gave almost exactly the visual I’d always pictured in my head while reading the book.

Personally, I can’t wait to see it again!

Have you seen The Great Gatsby? Have you read it? Did you enjoy either as much as I did?

March 27, 2013

The House at Riverton: Book Review

I was excited when we picked this book for book club last month. We’d read Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden last year, and it was phenomenal. Couldn’t put it down. I was expecting the same out of The House at Riverton, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t have that same amazingness that The Forgotten Garden had.

The story follows Grace, a house maid eventually turned ladies maid through the course of her tenure at Riverton. The story focuses on the suicide of a poet, an old family friend and years leading up to that point.

Things I liked about the book:

The setting. The old manor house filled with staff and surrounded by beautiful grounds. Not to mention I’m a sucker for anything that takes place in England.

The concept. A man dies mysteriously and everyone’s lives change as a result.

The twists. But I won’t tell you about them in case you haven’t read the book.


Things I didn’t like about the book:

The way you don’t get back to the suicide until the very end.

The incredible amount of sadness. There were times I had to put this book down because it was getting so sad.

I know it was a different time, and people behaved differently, but I would have liked Grace to have confronted a few things that she just let lie, and then the people who they were relevant to died and she never got to say them or learn how the people felt about them. I know, I’m being vague, but read the book and you’ll get it.

The House at Riverton pairs well with a glass of champagne.

The House at Riverton pairs well with a glass of champagne.

Overall, I enjoyed The House at Riverton. It was entertaining enough, albeit a little too sad. Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it to a friend? I don’t really know. Probably not. I’d recommend The Forgotten Garden first. In fact, I have recommended that one.

Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?

February 25, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale: Book Review

We read The Thirteenth Tale for book club two months ago (yes, I’m a little behind writing the review. That’s  just me. I’m learning to accept it; you should too), and I think we all agreed we enjoyed it, but we also seemed to agree that it was….quirky.

The story is about an amateur biographer, Margaret Lea, who is hired by a famous author, Vida Winter, to write her life’s story before she passes away. It travels from present time to Vida’s childhood and back throughout the book, chronicling the ins and outs of Ms. Winters’ troubled childhood growing up in a rural English manor house and the family secrets that made her the person she became. For the sake of giving away too many details about the book, I’m going to leave the description at that. If you need more info, feel free to visit Goodreads.

The hardest thing for me about this book was my inability to really grasp the characters in present time. Margaret is troubled, melancholy and has potential to be very interesting, but she seems to fall a bit flat to me. Likewise, Ms. Winter has moments where she becomes very interesting, but just as I was starting to feel a connection to her or some sympathy for her, the author snapped to a different direction, leaving that bit of feeling hanging in the wind.

I have a hard time really describing my feelings about this book. I felt very compelled to continue picking it up, continue devouring the story, but at the same time, I felt continuously disappointed. And sad. It was truly a sad story. Each character either died or lost everything that meant something to them…or both. And at times it was hard to follow exactly what was going on in the story. There were a lot of instances where you simply had to assume that what you thought was happening actually was happening. There wasn’t always confirmation in the following sentences or chapters.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. I’d been wanting to read it, and now I can say that I have. I won’t say it changed my life or gave me a new perspective on the world or on literature or anything like that, but it was entertaining enough to get me from start to finish without giving up.

July 10, 2012

Book Review: Gone Girl

Don’t you hate when you read a book, especially a long one, and you’re loving it; it’s so amazingly holding your attention that you can barely put it down, and then you get to the end and it totally flops? Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was that book.

It’s a story about marriage at its rockiest. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy moves girl from NYC to dying Mississippi river town. Girl hates it. One day girl disappears.

As I said before, the story starts out well. I was compelled to pick it up any chance I got just to see what happened next. In the first section of the book, you aren’t sure what happened to her. Is she still alive? Did her husband kill her? Did she run away? Did someone kidnap her? So many unanswered questions. I found myself unsure of who I was rooting for. You know what I mean, right? There’s two sides, of course, and its usually easy enough to decide whose team you’re on. But I found myself going back and forth the entire way through this book. I couldn’t predict how it was going to turn out or who would “win.”

But then, at the end of the first section, you get the big answer. You know what happened to her. And you’re compelled to continue reading to figure out how the heck she’s going to get out of the mess she’s in. Because she is in a big mess. And he’s in a big mess too. And all the little pieces unravel and squirm toward the end. And then, it just dies. No closure, one giant loose end just floating around out there. It’s like it was hurling full speed toward a giant cliff and instead of something miraculous happening, it just falls of the edge.

I contemplated writing a further review below, but I don’t think I want to. I don’t think its worth my time because I’m kind of over being pissed off at this book. If you’d like to have a chat about it, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll go to town on it.

Other than that, I do NOT recommend this book.

Has anyone else read this? Did you have a different opinion?

June 18, 2012

Book Review: Under The Tuscan Sun

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it or not, but I’m in two different book clubs. And as such, I figured I’d start sharing my opinions of the books we read with you.

As I mentioned in a previous post, in one of my book clubs, we read Under the Tuscan Sun for our June meeting.

I had a love/hate relationship with this book. It was written like a journal of sorts because the author took the content from a notebook that she kept beginning when she and her boyfriend, Ed, purchased the house in Tuscany. That being said, there was no plot, no storyline. It was simply a collection of thoughts, observations, recipes and tidbits from the experiences the author had purchasing, remodeling and spending summers at a house in Tuscany.

There were parts I really enjoyed. The book evoked in me a desire to experience life in another country, a completely different culture, a simpler way of life. It also made me consider the merit in cooking simply, eating in season and instilled in me a strong desire to grow an herb garden.

On the other hand, I wished there were some photos of the house, a floor plan maybe, some before and after photos of the things that were changed. There were parts of the book where I had a very hard time visualizing what she was writing about. At the end, there’s a whole chapter about taking up the floor and there being layers and layers of stone below it. I just couldn’t picture it. I ended up skimming the chapter because if I can’t see it in my head, the words are just words.

There wasn’t a lot of dialogue, and I found that left something lacking. I had a hard time relating to the author. There was very little about her life, about her personality, about who she really was. Pair that with the fact that she obviously has unending wealth (buying a house in Tuscany, spending a ton of money to fix it up and then flying there twice a year…she can’t be simply “getting by”) and it was entirely impossible to relate to her. I didn’t feel for her, I couldn’t see the world through her eyes, and I couldn’t imagine what it might be like to be her. If you ask me, these things are crucial to really being able to enjoy a book.

So overall, I don’t think I would recommend this book to anyone. Someone in our group asked “Did this book make you want to go to Italy?” I can’t say that it did. In fact, I think, based on the book, my opinion and desire to visit the country has lessened. Of course that’s not to say I wouldn’t go given the opportunity or that it’s no longer on my list of places I’d like to visit. It just didn’t strengthen my desire like I would have expected a first-hand depiction would have.