Book #16 of 2014: Gone Girl

I read this book because it is hyped all over The Internets, but I hadn’t a clue what it was about. I finished it over a week ago and I’ve been struggling to write a review because (1) I feel conflicted about whether I liked it or not, and (2) I don’t know how to review it without giving anything away. So, I’m warning you now that this review contains massive amounts of spoilers. If you haven’t read the book and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading immediately.

Nick and Amy have been married five years, and on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. The house is in disarray, the front door wide open, and it is clear that she has not left of her own free will. Nick calls the police to report it and everything starts to go downhill for him at that point, because as we all know, it’s always the husband. Right?

The book is broken up into three sections. In the first part, the chapters alternate between present-day Nick and entries from Amy’s diary over the past several years. Nick spends a lot of time denying that he had anything to do with his wife’s disappearance, but he doesn’t actually seem all that concerned about her either. Amy’s diary paints a picture of a happier couple, although her most recent entries show that their relationship has changed and she admits that she is actually scared he might harm her now.

Here are my problems with this book:

1. Nick’s sister’s name is Margo. He insists on calling her “Go.” This has to be the most irritating nickname in the history of all nicknames ever. I refused to read it and made a conscious decision to call her by her full name whenever I came across it.

2. Nick and Margo’s relationship is WEIRD. I get it, they’re twins. They have a special connection. But in the beginning of the book there is this unnerving sexual chemistry between them and it’s disturbing.

3. We find out in part two that Amy is alive and well, hiding out in a rented cabin at some deranged campground that seems to exist solely for the purpose of hiding murderers and battered wives and anyone else trying to stay under the radar. As Amy starts to detail her plan and explain why she did what she did, I began to hate her. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention, though, because it seems later like you’re supposed to be on Amy’s side. I mean, I get it, Nick cheated on her. He had a mistress. That is awful and inexcusable. BUT, that doesn’t mean that you frame your husband to look like a killer and plant evidence against him, trying to get him convicted and sent to death row. However, I constantly got the feeling that the author was trying to get some kind of pro-women message across and it just didn’t settle right with me at all.

4. The ending was horrible. Nick stays with her because she’s got too much against him and he doesn’t know how to prove that she is a sociopathic murderer. He can never leave because then he will be the jerk who left his formerly-kidnapped-and-abused now-pregnant-with-his-child wife, and really, who wants to be that guy? Yet, I still find it absolutely sickening that he is now trapped in a marriage where he has to literally fear for his life every single day because his wife is capable of not only killing him, but making it look like he deserved it.

5. This is not so much to do with the book, but the reviews of the book. I went on to Goodreads immediately after I finished it to see if anyone else felt the way I did. Not many people did. A majority of the comments were along the lines of, “They deserve each other!” Really, people? Do you really believe that marital infidelity is EXACTLY THE SAME as faking your own abduction and then taking the life of someone along the way because it would make your story look more realistic when you have to go crawling back home??? I, for one, do NOT. I do not for one second excuse Nick’s character for what he did. It was wrong. Amy had every right to be upset. But for someone to suggest that these two people belong together because they are both EQUALLY awful? No. Just no.

Book #15 of 2014: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

A few months ago, my husband and I headed to Barnes and Noble on a Friday night to make lists of books that we want to read. We do this every so often and I can’t tell you how much we look forward to it, despite how dorky it may sound.

I liked the look of the cover on this one, so I picked it up and the jacket copy immediately pulled me in. Girl meets cute British boy on a plane, they spend 7 hours talking to each other and sharing secrets, then they part ways at Heathrow. What’s not to like about that? It didn’t hurt that the British boy’s name is Oliver — Oliver, guys. He goes by Ollie, of course, which is probably the most adorable thing ever. I mean, look at that cover! If that doesn’t scream Read This Cute Book About Two Teenagers in Love!, I don’t know what does.

Hadley is on her way to London for her dad’s wedding to a woman she’s never met, and Ollie (swoon) is heading… well, he doesn’t really say other than he is going to a church. They discuss Hadley’s family situation at length, share some laughs and some romantic moments, and then they lose each other in the crowd at customs.

I had really high hopes for this one, and unfortunately it did not deliver. The third-person limited narration really did NOT work for me at all. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, all of whom were lacking in development. I actually skipped over large parts of the story because it was so long winded and tedious, especially the parts about Hadley’s relationship with her dad. She just droned on and on and on about it, and it came across as whining. We get it: your dad cheated and ruined your mom’s life, you’re angry about it, you don’t want to go to the wedding. This is re-hashed over and over again throughout the entire book and after the first couple of times, I was just done with it.

I couldn’t get behind Hadley at all. She is so self-absorbed that she never once asks Ollie what it is he’s going back to London for — she just assumes it’s for a wedding and then continues to complain to him about her own problems. Without being too spoiler-y, she throws a tantrum at the wedding and turns the whole thing around so that she is the focus, rather than her dad and his new bride (who is really quite gracious about the whole thing, by the way).

For such a short book, and such an interesting story idea, this was a huge disappointment.

Book #14 of 2014: Eleanor & Park

I’ve been dying to read this book ever since I first saw it, but it’s been on hold forever. I almost jumped up and down when I got the call from the library that it was FINALLY my turn. To be honest, I didn’t even really know what it was about, but the cover was cute and I had heard good things about it.

It’s 1986 and Eleanor is the new kid at school, which is bad enough without having fiery red hair and dressing like a boy. She looks weird so obviously no one likes her. Park is just barely hanging on to the outskirts of the popular group and he mostly tries to just stay out of everyone’s way. He offers Eleanor the seat next to him on the bus after she is turned down by just about everyone else, but not without first cursing at her and then putting on his headphones and ignoring her completely.

Their friendship starts awkwardly, with Eleanor sneaking peeks at Park’s comic books during their bus rides. He starts letting her borrow some, then they talk about music, and before you know it, those two crazy kids are head over heels for each other. Eleanor comes from a troubled past full of divorce, an abusive step-dad, and too many mouths to feed, while Park is a delightfully well-adjusted teen with two parents and a brother and his extended family living next door. They are complete opposites, but that’s exactly what makes them work.

You guys, I cried when I finished this book. I immediately wanted to start over at the beginning and read it cover-to-cover again because I hadn’t had enough of Eleanor and Park yet. I’ve since read a lot of reviews criticizing their relationship, but I thought it was sweet and wonderful and full of love. Who cares if they went from hating each other to Eleanor wanting to eat his face (seriously) too soon? Things move fast when you’re in high school. I thought that the author did a fantastic job of illustrating teenage relationships. However, I could have done without all the constant references to it being 1986. Mention a Walkman once and we get it. I don’t need a reminder in every chapter.

If you haven’t read this yet, go get yourself a copy. I’m putting it on my birthday list because it’s THAT good that I need one of my very own.

Irish Vegetable Soup!

When I was in Ireland, pretty much every meal looked like this:

Vegetable soup, brown bread, and tea. Lots and lots of tea. I was sick with a nasty respiratory infection and also grieving the loss of my mom (she had passed away only 3 weeks before), so I wasn’t much in the mood for real food. I ordered the vegetable soup on a whim the first night because the thought of anything else made me want to vomit, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was pureed instead of chunky. I’m not a huge fan of veggies in general, so this was a fantastic discovery. I proceeded to order it at every meal, and every single time it came out pureed.

When I got home, I felt nostalgic for the Emerald Isle so I began scouring the internet for an authentic recipe and I came across this one. The picture looks a little different, but I figured it was worth a shot. It tasted just like I remembered! I haven’t made it in a couple of years, but I decided to give it another whirl yesterday in honor of St. Patty’s Day. I had big plans to attempt making a loaf of brown bread, too, but that idea went out the window very quickly. Maybe next year.

I left out the garlic from the recipe this time because I have IBS and I’ve recently discovered I can no longer digest garlic, and honestly, the soup tasted exactly the same without it. Here is the original recipe, thanks to askaboutireland.ie:

Ingredients

1oz/25g butter (2 tbsp)
1 medium sized onion (I used frozen chopped onions because I am lazy. I grabbed two handfuls and threw them in.)
2 sticks of celery
1 medium leek
3 cloves of garlic (I didn’t use any this time and didn’t notice a difference. Last time I know I used garlic powder and I just seasoned it to taste.)
2 large potatoes
2 medium carrots (I used a handful of baby carrots again because I am lazy and they are already peeled and chopped small enough.)
Seasoning
2 pints/1200ml chicken/vegetable stock (4 cups)

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To garnish:
1 tablespoon pouring cream (I didn’t add either of these)
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

Method

Begin by chopping all of the vegetables and garlic.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and then add in the vegetables.
Sauté gently for 4-5 minutes until the vegetables are beginning to soften.

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Next add in approximately two thirds of the stock and bring the mixture to a slow boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes or until all of the vegetables have softened down completely.  (I threw in all the stock right away and it was fine.)

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Purée the soup until it is nice and smooth. Return to the heat and bring back to a very gentle boil.

This is where it fell apart for me. I didn’t realize that my blender wasn’t working properly anymore, so I ladled a bunch of the soup in and pressed the button only to hear the most awful grinding noise. I ended up with an entire blender full of steaming hot semi-mush. I frantically searched the kitchen and found my old Magic Bullet and then had to puree the entire batch of soup a couple of ladles at a time. It was not good times.

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If you would like a thinner soup, now would be the best time to add some additional stock to thin it down. Correct the seasoning at this stage also, adding in some salt and pepper as required.

Transfer it to your serving bowls or cups and garnish the soup with a little pouring cream and chopped parsley.

Serve immediately or alternatively allow the soup to cool down and then transfer it into suitable containers and freeze until required.

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It turned out wonderfully. I picked up some pretzel rolls and Irish butter from the store which go nicely with this meal. I have enough to last me at least four days, so I’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day all week long. Slainte!

Book #13 of 2014: An Abundance of Katherines

Colin Singleton has been dumped 19 times, and every single of one those women has been named Katherine. After the most recent dumping, Colin and his best friend, Hassan, embark on a road trip to explore the world and get their minds off of reality. They end up in The Middle of Nowhere, TN, and meet a girl named Lindsey who works at the general store. In a completely unrealistic turn, Lindsey’s mom invites Colin and Hassan to stay with them for an indefinite period of time as long as they help her interview her employees at the tampon-string factory to record their memories of the town. Strangest premise ever.

This was my first John Green book. I’ve been trying to get my hands on The Fault in Our Stars, which everyone is raving about, but it’s constantly out at the library. This book was OK. By the end of about chapter 3, I had had enough of the words “fug” (in all its various conjugations) and kafir. I didn’t get the whole “fug” thing — reading it quickly makes it sound just like the f-bomb, which I know is the point, but then why not just use the real word? Even after the characters discuss it and Colin explains why they use it, it was still beyond annoying.

Also? The author has a really, really, REALLY loose definition of what it means to be dumped. In my opinion, you must be in a relationship to be dumped. The author believes that any rejection at all can be considered dumping, which doesn’t make a lick of sense. If a guy asks a girl out and she says no, she is rejecting him, not dumping him. Some of the Katherines in Colin’s life didn’t technically dump him because they were never together in the first place.

Overall, though, it was a decent story and it held my attention enough to get me to finish it. Some of the characters were a little on the stereotypical side, and the plot was completely transparent, but it was mindless entertainment that didn’t require too much thinking (except the math parts, which I skipped).

Book #12 of 2014: How to Save a Life

I picked up this book by accident. I was perusing the Young Adult section at the library looking for books by Gabrielle Zevin (because I really enjoyed Elsewhere), and I stumbled upon How to Save a Life. I wasn’t paying too much attention because the librarian was eyeing me suspiciously, so I pretended it was exactly what I was looking for and hightailed it back up to the grown-up books section.

Jill’s dad died a few months ago and nothing has been the same since: not life, not her mom, not her. She is different and struggling to cope, so she has pushed all of her friends away and is “on a break” with her boyfriend, Dylan. She works part-time at a bookstore, and this is pretty much the only place where she feels semi-normal. As she says, she can manage to be cheerful and polite to complete strangers, but not to the people who matter most.

Mandy is 18 and pregnant and needs to get away from her mom and her boyfriend. She swipes mom’s boyfriend’s gold watch, throws some clothes in a bag, and hops a train to meet a woman she has been corresponding with online: Jill’s mom. Mandy knows she can’t give her baby the life it deserves, and Jill’s mom is desperate to fill a void in her life, so Mandy moves in and tries to become part of the family. Except there a few details she hasn’t been all that honest about…

I have a soft spot for authors who can get grief so absolutely right, and that is exactly what Sara Zarr does here. The way Jill describes life after her dad’s death, and her feelings surrounding it, are so spot on, it’s scary. I struggle a lot with “Before My Mom Died” and “After My Mom Died,” and it was refreshing to read about Jill’s difficulty with that as well. It’s not something you do on purpose, and it’s frustrating, but things sort of just categorize themselves automatically into Before and After. Also, the way she searches for her old self, wondering if she used to be nice, and not recognizing her smile in old photos? Exactly. Just, wow.

Aside from all that, I really loved this book. I’m a big fan of novels that switch back and forth between two different perspectives, and this one was done wonderfully. I loved seeing things from Mandy’s perspective and hearing her explain why she said that or acted a certain way, but then seeing it from Jill’s point of view and realizing how bizarre Mandy truly is.

This story is heartwarming, if maybe a tad predictable. I’ve been waiting for a book with characters that I could really latch on to, and this was it. I could picture them in my head so clearly, and there were a lot of times I just wanted to reach out and give both girls a giant hug because, despite their flaws, they were both experiencing tremendous amounts of pain. Two thumbs up.

Book #11 of 2014: Before I Fall

I picked up Before I Fall on a whim when I was at the library last weekend. I actually mistakenly had it on my “read” bookshelf on Goodreads because the cover looked familiar, but I’ve never read it nor did I have any idea what it was about. I realized this, saw it on the library bookshelf, and decided to take it home with me.

Samantha “Sam” Kingston is one-fourth of the most popular clique of girls in not only the senior class, but the entire population of her high school. They get away with everything, have the coolest boyfriends, and generally run the school. Leaving a party one night, the girls get into an accident and Sam dies, destined to re-live her last day an excruciating seven times.

How do I put this nicely? Sam and her friends are what you would call huge bitches. Like, the worst of the worst. They are beyond brutal to one girl in particular, Juliet Sykes, calling her “Psycho” complete with knife-stabbing gestures, signs of the cross, and a song whenever she passes by. They constantly refer to each other as bitches, they skip class, drink, smoke, have sex with whomever (well, except for Sam and Ally, who are both still virgins), and spend their time thinking about how much better they are than everyone else.

It was incredibly difficult to read the first few “days” of this book because of what an awful person Sam is and the thinking it made me do about myself. I am in no way proud to admit this, but I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to Mean Girls: I’ve been ridiculed and harassed, and I’ve been the one to make up horrible names for other girls and talk about them. High school was not my shining moment. If I could go back, I’d keep my big trap shut and wouldn’t spend nearly as much time worrying about what everyone else thought. Based on my experience, insecurity is usually what leads to the girl-on-girl abuse.

Overall, this book was OK. Not great, not bad, just OK. I went online when I was done and read the reviews on Goodreads and I was absolutely shocked by how many four- and five-star reviews it received. People were raving about it like it was life-changing. Maybe I’m too old and missed something, but mostly I just found it another overly exaggerated high school tale. If high school is really the way it is portrayed in this book, then thank the Lord that I went to a Catholic school where stuff like this never happened. This will just reinforce my belief that my future children will go to Catholic school no matter what sacrifices we need to make as a family. (Yes, I realize bad things can happen anywhere, and yes, I am familiar with all of the stereotypes surrounding Catholicism in general and Catholic schools girls specifically.)

Before I Fall was well-written, and I did enjoy the transformation of Sam’s character, but I wasn’t “wowed” by the story or the outcome. It seems like a lot of readers were outraged by the ending, whereas I don’t quite understand how they could have been surprised. I thought the ending was very clearly laid out from if not the very beginning, then at least partially through the story.