2016 Reading Challenge · book reviews · reviews

Book Review: A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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A Little Life was the first book I chose from my 2016 Reading Challenge, a book recommended by a librarian or bookseller, and what a way to start! I am normally able to get through a novel of this length in a couple of days, depending on what else is going on in my life; I began this on January 11, and didn’t finish until March 22. It isn’t a difficult novel to read in the sense that the prose is complicated or confusing; it was hard for me to get through simply because of the challenging plot. The main character, Jude, is a heartrendingly broken man, and the story of his brokenness was, at times, too much for me.

A Little Life is the story of four college classmates, who move to New York to make their way: JB, an occasionally cruel painter who is trying desperately to make it in the art world; Malcolm, the genius architect; Willem, kind, handsome aspiring actor; and Jude, a brilliant litigator with a tortured past and a disabled body he refuses to acknowledge. As the years go by, each of these men achieves huge success in their fields: Willem becomes a world-famous movie star, JB’s paintings of his friends are shown in galleries all over, and Malcolm is designing buildings on every continent, while Jude is the head of his law firm. Their relationships through the years have deepened and grown, and the men themselves go through addictions, sickness, love and death. Through it all, we see Jude become continue to crack along the lines formed by a horribly traumatic childhood. He is haunted by his past, sure that if he tells the people he loves about what happened to him, they will not only judge him, but turn away or worse. His scars define him, and just when he is healing for real, the universe kicks Jude in the teeth once again.  After years of friendship, Jude and Willem have fallen in love, and are happy together. Jude’s myriad health problems are finally on the mend, after some major surgery, and their life is good. For the first time in his life, Jude is happy. And then BOOM!  Jude’s life is blown to smithereens once again.

“This, he thinks, is his punishment for depending on others: one by one, they will leave him, and he will be alone again, and this time it will be worse because he will remember it had once been better. He has the sense, once again, that his life is moving backward, that it is becoming smaller and smaller, the cement box shrinking around him until he is left with a space so cramped that he must fold himself into a crouch, because if he lies down, the ceiling will lower itself upon him and he will be smothered.” (p 804)

While this novel truly broke my heart, it’s easy to see why it was recommended by so many, and nominated for so many awards. I’d recommend it gladly, as long as you aren’t looking for something to cheer you up.

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Book Review: Consumed by Aaron Mahnke

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Like many other readers, I came to Aaron Mahnke’s fiction after listening to his podcast, “Lore,” which I love. I must say, I am glad I followed that trail.  Aaron Mahnke’s novel does not provide the fear and terror that a reader of Stephen King might expect; it’s a different kind of scare. Cozy, like sitting in your favorite armchair with a cup of tea and a great book, comfy and relaxed, and BAM! something smashes into the window, scaring the bejesus out of you! Reading this, you’ll end up with tea all over your lap, and your book tossed to the floor in fright. Be careful.

While ‘Consumed’ was not quite what I expected (honestly, from the title, I’d suspected a vampire novel), it was a worthwhile read, and had me on the edge of my seat. I honestly cannot remember the last time I reacted this way to a horror story. I will definitely be reading more of his fiction. But maybe not while drinking a hot cup of tea…

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Book Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

“Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.” 

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That’s the summation from Goodreads, and of course, after reading that, I had to read this book. Hitchcockian is right–Paula Hawkins debut novel is worth the time. It was not at all what I’d expected, and that alone kept me reading. At the halfway mark I found myself saying “This book has me all screwed up! And I cannot put it down!” I had to find out why, and who. Now, be warned: there are a couple of spoilers in this review, although I do not give the end away (I’m not that kind of person!).

Told primarily by Rachel, who isn’t always a reliable narrator, we see how these people’s lives are intertwined. Rachel may be crazy, you think. The others who tell their sides (Anna and Megan) may be as well. A bit of the literary criticism that was pounded into my head in college popped up as I read this, so I will share it with you, even though I normally just read a story for the story. Rachel rides the train every day, back & forth to a job she no longer has, looking out the window at the house she lived in with her ex-husband, who now lives there with his new wife & baby. She’s got a drinking problem, and has become a bit obsessed with the couple who live in the house a few doors down from her old house–the couple she calls Jess & Jason. Rachel is, in the beginning of the book, on a journey to nowhere. As her story unfolds, and she gets involved in things outside the train windows, we see that she is finally moving forward. The train is a symbol of her journey.

This novel has been compared to Gone Girl, and a couple of other things I’ve not read, but the comparison to Hitchcock is spot on. Read it. You’ll like it.

Oh, and another thing–I had not figured out who or why by the time it was revealed, and that, as you may know is always a plus in any mystery for me!

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Book Review: ‘Motive’ by Jonathan Kellerman

<img alt=”Motive: An Alex Delaware Novel” border=”0″ src=”https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1419643912m/22926807.jpg” />Motive: An Alex Delaware Novel by motivehref=”https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/43626.Jonathan_Kellerman”>Jonathan Kellerman</a><br/>
My rating: <a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/893552991″>2 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
I consider myself a fan of Jonathan Kellerman, and especially of the Alex Delaware series; I own every book in the series, and have read most of them more than once. (In the past, when my stash of paperbacks were not stored in the garage, I’d have a Kellerman Marathon Weekend every few months, and binge read my way through the series!) Kellerman’s Detective Milo Sturgis, is one of my favorite characters in contemporary literature. I am always happy when a new book is released. But the last few books have been sadly lacking in the psychological twist that made the series unique, and “Motive” is lacking in more than that. It seems as if Kellerman is writing by rote, following an outline. Chapter 1: The Murder; Chapter 2: A Bit About the Victim; Chapter 3: Milo Eats.” By the end of the book, it’s difficult to care. In this case, we were given page after page of supposition, and, in comparison, very little action. The entire reason this series is so popular (at least from my point of view), is the unique psychological twist that their author gives them; if I wanted a standard crime story, I could get that anywhere. I read these because of that element: why the bad guys are who they are. ‘Motive’ seems to be sorely lacking in its title.

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<a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/1379231-jonna-doughty”>View all my reviews</a>

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Book Review: The Good Girl

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

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This novel, the story of an adult daughter, kidnapped and eventually returned, is told in a “before and after” way, with each chapter told from a different character’s point of view. For example, a chapter may be titled ‘EVE, Before’, and the narrator will be Eve, the girl’s mother; she will be talking about how things were before the kidnapping or before her daughter returned. The voices heard are Eve, Gabe (the police detective assigned to the case), Colin (the kidnapper) and in only two chapters, Mia (the “good girl”).

The novel has some elements that seem to have stepped out of a soap opera: Colin has been hired to kidnap Mia and bring her to some other men. He picks her up in a bar, after her boyfriend doesn’t show up (it’s later revealed that Colin has paid him to stay late at work), and takes her home, but he can’t bring himself to turn her over to the men who hired him. Instead, he and Mia disappear into the woods, and spend three months loving in an abandonded cabin. Of course, like any good soap story, they end up in love. But they aren’t the only ones. Meanwhile, back home, Mia’s mother, Eve, is falling for detective Gabe, and he for her, in spite of the fact that she’s got a powerful judge as a husband. The judge is a classic jerk, though, uncaring about his daughter or wife, and only worried about himself. We aren’t surprised that the entire thing turns out to be his fault.

While I enjoyed the back & forth of characters, and found this a fairly good novel, I found it a bit lacking in true emotion. Still, I was happy with it, and especially glad that I had no idea about the ending.

anti-depressant · books · celebrity · Major Depression · Mental Health Issues

So Much More

“There’s so much more to a book than just reading.”  -Maurice Sendak

My life has revolved around books, in some way, shape, or form, for as long as I can remember, and so when I came across this quote today, it struck me as especially true. Books have been my self-medication, that drug I turn to, reading until the pain is numbed or the anger faded; my anchor, helping to keep me calm in stormy seas; my inspiration, showing me that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t neccessarily a train (and if it is, teaching me how to avoid being run down!). Books continue to show me that I am not alone, and for that reason alone, I will never give up reading.

I am still fighting darkness, and this week, a book gave me some words I desperately needed. I began reading

Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother’s Son

by Joe Pantoliano, the actor best known for his role on The Sopranos (although I remember him primarily as Guido in Risky Business, this is how old I am!). I haven’t made it past the introduction yet, and already, I’m reading parts of this book to family and friends, and writing a post about it. This man, who has struggled his entire life with depression, ADHD, and for years never knew what was really wrong, has put my feelings into words so eloquently, so perfectly, I can’t talk about it without crying. As he discusses his brain disease, and the battles against the stigma of mental illness, he writes this, which is where I began to bawl:

“Louis B Mayer once said ‘The most important thing about acting is sincerity….Once you learn to fake that, you got it made.’ That’s what my depression felt like- like I was faking it. Faking sincerity. Faking serenity. Faking life.” (p. 224) Faking it is what I’ve been doing my entire life, it seems, but Joe finally put it into words.

There is much, much more to this book, and I know I’ll have a whopper of a review for you all once I finish it. But right now, I just had to say that I have never been so glad I chose a book at the time I did.

By the way, I am beginning a new antidepressant tomorrow, (saw Dr Jeff today), and have a referral to a therapist, so with any luck, we’ll get some of this darkness cleared away for good. Or at least find a nice storage facility for it.

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