May 2016 – Book Review

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I love Tina Fey. I love what she did on SNL and with my beloved 30 Rock, and so I was pretty excited to read Bossypants. Unfortunately, I feel like much of it falls flat. I did greatly enjoy the (luckily) significant portions that focus on SNL and 30 Rock, but the rest of it lacked the genius writing she so obviously possesses. Perhaps I was expecting more, especially since I loved Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I do think I would’ve enjoyed Bossypants more if I listened to it on audiobook, which is something that I’ve never done (so I’m surprised I even mentioned it). I could read her humor just fine, but having Fey read her story for me aloud would probably work better. 3/5

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I try to give every book I read a chance, to make sure that there really is something worthwhile. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. Straub’s novel focuses on the Post family–Jim, Franny, Bobby, and Sylvia–Bobby’s girlfriend, Carmen; Franny’s best friend, Charles; and Charles’ husband, Lawrence, on their trip to Mallorca. The story is pretty slim, even for an obvious beach read. Not much happens in the first half of the novel, and when something does happen in the second half, it’s the same problem that’s been referenced before with all of the other characters’ relationships.

In one of my Goodreads updates, I said that I didn’t mind character studies. I’m not sure if the novel even qualifies as such, as each character reacts similarly to the same obstacle they all run into. That being said, Straub can write well. Her writing style is easy-breezy to read; each sentence flows swimmingly into the next. While The Vacationers is short on story, at least it isn’t entirely unpleasant to read. I’m still looking forward to Straub’s next novel, Modern Lovers; hopefully there’ll be a bit more complexity with the characters and story. 2/5

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I loved every single bit of this novel. Station Eleven is almost like a perfect episode of Lost.

Emily St. John Mandel’s novel focuses on several characters who all have some sort of relationship with famed actor Arthur Leander, and experience his sudden death, both near and afar, during a performance of King Lear. Just as Leander perishes, there’s an unexpected pandemic of the Georgia Flu and the world’s inhabitants–roughly 99%–die as well. Along the American-Canadian border, some of the survivors of this pandemic, including Kirsten Raymonde, Jeevan Chaudhary, Clark Thompson, Miranda Carroll, and Tyler Leander, among others, must traverse what’s left of this wasteland in order to survive.

Twenty years after the collapse, Kirsten Raymonde belongs to the Travelling Symphony, which is comprised of actors and musicians who travel caravan-style around the Great Lakes to perform Shakespeare and musical classics. Raymonde was in the the production of King Lear and witnessed Arthur Leander’s death up-close. Jeevan Chaudhary leaped toward the stage to help resuscitate Arthur. Clark Thompson was Arthur’s best friend whom he met as a teenager, both struggling to become famous actors. Miranda Carroll was Arthur’s first wife, and created a two volume comic book entitled Station Eleven, copies of which, after receiving them as gifts from Arthur, Raymonde holds dear. And, Tyler Leander–well, I’ll keep him a secret.

The writing is brilliant; Mandel expertly intertwined several storylines and makes connections between the disparate characters, all across decades before, during, and after Arthur Leander’s death and the onset of the Georgia Flu. This is what I mean when I compare the novel to Lost, with all of its intersecting characters and storylines with flashbacks and flashfowards.

I love this book. I really do. I even added it to my favorites shelf before I finished reading it. It even comes close to my most recent book-love, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which I read at the end of last year. Try Station Eleven. You won’t be disappointed. 5/5

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Ramona Ausubel’s Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, which streets on June 16th (I was able to obtain a digital ARC through Penguin’s First to Read program), is an entertaining literary read. The story focuses on Fern and Edgar Keating, their parents, their children, and the unraveling effects all parties endure after their financial floor suddenly vanishes beneath them.

Many may dislike Fern and Edgar, and I can see why. But I wonder whether or not we would act the same if something so comforting–and, let’s be honest here, money is a comforting object, whether or not we believe in just how good or bad it is–were to be swept away so suddenly. Fern and Edgar, like their money, vanish into their own stories, leaving their children alone for a week. The children–Cricket, James, and Will–seem content with their parent-free lives; worry only settles in toward the end of the week, but then Edgar comes home. Fern travels with a giant, Mac, to recover his son. Edgar sails away with his lover. Both discover their terrible mistakes and return to the safety and comfort of their home. While they’re still penniless, a new familial, rather than financial, comfort blossoms.

This story crosses many generations and several decades. Themes of family, self-worth, love, friendship, heartache, death, loss, and realization all play major parts here. Ausubel’s writing is descriptive and inviting; I wanted to continue reading her words. I’ll definitely have to check out Ausubel’s other novels. 4/5

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