Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Book: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Published: Amy Einhorn Books/ Putnam, 2009
Genre: Fiction
Pages:  464 pages
Where I got it: got an e-book copy for my Nook
Buy It: Amazon

Brief Summary (from Goodreads): In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

My thoughts: I've heard nothing but wonderful things about The Help since it's release in 2009, so I'm not sure why it took me this long to read it. I don't read much historical fiction aside from books on the Holocaust. I think how much I enjoyed this proves I need to branch out and add more historical fiction to my TBR list!

The Help is set in the deep south during the 1960's. While much of the rest of the country was progressing where race issues were concerned, Jackson, Mississippi was one of the worst places to live if you were black. The book is told through the perspectives of three strong women who boldly come together in the hopes of making a difference. I loved all three of the main characters, but Aibileen was my favorite. Her character felt very real to me and I loved the way she connected with Skeeter. Any scene with her and the little girl she helped look after was so touching.

I won't pretend to know how bad things were in the south during the 60's. I'm aware of the things I've learned from my history books, but I never realized the extent of it. The Help opened my eyes to the many difficulties these women faced as the hired help of rich, white southern women. They raise the children and love them as if they are their own. They try to teach them all they can about equality, but in the end the children grow up to be just like their mothers in the way they think and treat their maids. Skeeter's ability to think independently of her parents and her friends was so admirable, as was the group of maids willingness to participate, although for many it took a lot of arm twisting to get there, and rightfully so.

I can't say enough good things about this book to justify how much I enjoyed it. For a book written by an unknown, white author, Stockett did a great job narrating from the point of view of the maids. Often times I find books written in this style of alternating narrators to be confusing or time consuming but it was very easy for me to follow who was speaking at what point. I felt like each narrator developed their own individual voice and personality that shined through. As I got closer to the end of The Help, I found myself reading slower in order to savor what was left. I thought the ending was perfect because it wasn't completely happy nor sad, there was just the right amount of balance. There's been plenty of buzz about this book since it's release, but if for some reason you've been living under a rock and have not heard how good it is, go get yourself a copy! I can almost guarantee you will learn something from these brave ladies.

My rating: 4 stars


Review: Great House by Nicole Krauss

Book: Great House by Nicole Krauss
Published: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010
Genre: Fiction
Pages:  289 pages
Where I got it: the library
Buy It: Amazon

Summary (from Goodreads): A powerful, soaring novel about a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through.

For twenty-five years, a solitary American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet's secret police; one day a girl claiming to be his daughter arrives to take it away, sending her life reeling. Across the ocean in London, a man discovers a terrifying secret about his wife of almost fifty years. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer is slowly reassembling his father's Budapest study, plundered by the Nazis in 1944.

These worlds are anchored by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. In the minds of those it has belonged to, the desk comes to stand for all that has disappeared in the chaos of the world-children, parents, whole peoples and civilizations. Nicole Krauss has written a hauntingly powerful novel about memory struggling to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss.

My thoughts: Nicole Krauss is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. I absolutely adored The History of Love and although I wasn't completely head over heels for Man Walks Into a Room, I thought it was a good first novel. Krauss' third novel, Great House, had me captivated from page one. There is something so poetic about her writing. I love the way she is able to interweave the stories of so many people, connecting them through this one object that traveled across countries and seas. Although there were times I felt confused about the time line or how they could have all had possession of the same desk at one time, I wasn't too caught up in the logistics of it because the back story of the four different narrators was so interesting. The effort Krauss puts in to the detail of her characters is so admirable. I feel like the plot of her novels aren't very complex, which would normally bug me. In her case, they don't have to be due to her ability to create an interesting story just by putting the right words together on paper. She truly has a gift.

Great House was heartbreaking at times, but somehow I still came away from it feeling very positive. I loved the idea of the desk and how much an inanimate object could hold so much weight for various people. It gave me a sense of nostalgia for some of my favorite possessions both now and in the past. The section that resonated with me most was that of the antiques dealer in Jerusalem, Weisz, trying to rebuild his father's office with the original pieces that were taken by Nazis during the war. Weisz explains what he does as an antiques dealer in this quote- "It's true, I can't bring the dead back to life. But I can bring back the chair they once sat in, the bed where they slept." It's funny how something so seemingly unimportant can bring back a flood of memories for a person but it's so true.When I went home for Christmas this year, sleeping in my old bedroom at my parents house was exactly what I needed after moving so far away from my family and the city I grew up in.

Whether you are a fan of Nicole Krauss or not, please do yourself a favor and check out her website. It's currently designed for the release of Great House and it's just fabulous! The piano on the right hand side is genius. It was such a small piece of the book but it made me happy to see it integrated into her site design (if you've already read Great House, you'll know what I mean). I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a story full of beautiful language and great detail. Krauss is also married to the wonderful Jonathan Safran Foer and I feel like they have similar writing styles, so if you're a fan of his, definitely check this book out! Also, if you haven't read The History of Love, go do so now. Please and thank you :)

My rating: 4 stars 


Book Blogger Hop!

I haven't done the book blogger hop for awhile but here I am, ready to jump back in! This week's question is: "Why do you read the genre that you do?  What draws you to it?"

I read multiple genres, but mostly fiction because I find it fun to read. I like getting sucked into a story, whether it's science fiction, young adult, literature etc. I think I'm drawn to it because it's a good way to forget about the real world for a bit. I don't read much non-fiction unless it's a memoir because I find too much of it is too textbooky (yes, not a word, so?)

Thanks to Jennifer at Crazy-for-books for hosting the hop! Thanks for stopping by :)


Review: Firelight by Sophie Jordan

Book: Firelight by Sophie Jordan
Published: HarperTeen, 2010
Genre: YA/ Paranormal Romance/ Fantasy
Pages:  323 pages
Where I got it: got a copy for my Nook
Buy It: Amazon

Summary (from Goodreads): Marked as special at an early age, Jacinda knows her every move is watched. But she longs for freedom to make her own choices. When she breaks the most sacred tenet among her kind, she nearly pays with her life. Until a beautiful stranger saves her. A stranger who was sent to hunt those like her. For Jacinda is a draki—a descendant of dragons whose greatest defense is her secret ability to shift into human form.
Forced to flee into the mortal world with her family, Jacinda struggles to adapt to her new surroundings. The only bright light is Will. Gorgeous, elusive Will who stirs her inner draki to life. Although she is irresistibly drawn to him, Jacinda knows Will's dark secret: He and his family are hunters. She should avoid him at all costs. But her inner draki is slowly slipping away—if it dies she will be left as a human forever. She'll do anything to prevent that. Even if it means getting closer to her most dangerous enemy.
Mythical powers and breathtaking romance ignite in this story of a girl who defies all expectations and whose love crosses an ancient divide.

My thoughts: Opening with an action packed chase scene between Jacinda, a descendant of dragons, and a group of hunters, I expected Firelight to capture my attention and hold it until the very end. Unfortunately, I was unimpressed with the first book of this series. I'm still fairly new to reading the paranormal romance/ fantasy genre, so there are certain things that I still find a little out there sometimes. I could not get on board with the draki. I found myself thinking it was too weird of a premise for me to get very invested in. As a draki, Jacinda can take on human form. When her draki side is released, she sprouts wings and her skin turns shimmery. What separates Jacinda from other draki is her ability to breath fire, which causes the people of her pride to worship her to the point that she no longer has a choice for what her future will hold.

The love story is believable and romantic in a star-crossed lover kind of way. I had trouble finding many of the characters likable, though. In particular, Jacinda's mother and sister seemed like horrible people to have for family. They were trying to force her to be someone she wasn't and forget about her past. Her mom made the argument that it was all in Jacinda's best interests, but I was still very annoyed by her character. Her twin sister Tamra came off incredibly annoying and self-centered. Definitely my least favorite character in the book.

I know that this is just the first book of a series, but I thought that it ended too abruptly. Firelight is a fast paced novel, packed with suspenseful moments. I was surprised when I only had a few pages left; I had a feeling there was going to be a big cliffhanger. The cliffhanger might have me curious enough to pick up the second book when it's released in hopes that it will get better. I get so bummed out when I don't enjoy a book, especially when it gets such high ratings on Goodreads and Amazon. While I've said this was out of my comfort zone as far as the paranormal is concerned, if you are looking for a unique storyline, this book may be for you.

My rating: 2 stars


Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Book: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Published: Knopf, 2010
Genre: YA
Pages:  260 pages
Where I got it: bought at Borders
Buy It: Amazon
Summary (from Goodreads): “I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

My thoughts: This was the perfect book to read during the holidays because it takes place over Christmas and New Years. It's not strictly a Christmas book but Lily's love for the holidays helped put me in the holiday spirit. I was able to sync up my reading to the days of the events in the story, which was a fun way to read. I love the style in which Cohn and Levithan write their novels. If I hadn't read that Levithan was writing from Dash's perspective and Cohn from Lily's, I would have thought this was a book written by one author. The collaborative writing style is an interesting concept that I think could go either terribly wrong or incredibly right. In this case it's definitely the latter. I had a blast reading Dash & Lily's Book of Dares, and I may have developed a slight crush on Dash along the way (a boy who loves to read? I don't believe it!)

Lily got on my nerves sometimes, particularly when she referred to herself as Shrilly, but overall I thought both she and Dash were fun and engaging characters. I have never been to The Strand in NYC but I have heard that it's a book lover's heaven. I loved that Cohn and Levithan made it such an integral part of Dash & Lily's adventures. I didn't find this to be a completely believable story, but it was fun nonetheless. While reading, I felt like I really got to know the characters and it seemed like I was in on their game of trading the red moleskine notebook back and forth. Their notebook of dares was such a fun idea, I'm tempted to try something similar myself. It would be an awesome way to make a new bookish friend and such a great story to tell.

My rating: 4 stars


Review: Paper Towns by John Green

Book: Paper Towns by John Green
Published: Speak, 2009
Genre: YA
Pages:  320 pages
Where I got it: bought at Borders
Buy It: Amazon

Summary (from Goodreads): Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life--dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge--he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues--and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.
Printz medalist John Green returns with the brilliant wit and searing emotional honesty that have inspired a new generation of readers.

My thoughts: This is the second novel that I have read by John Green. He has his own style of writing and characters that are fairly similar among his books, but it's working for him. I like Green's approach to writing because I feel like I would be friends with his characters. His protagonist is always the underdog, nerdy and likable.

Quentin Jacobsen has been in love with Margo Roth Spiegelman his whole life. The pair were childhood friends who grew apart after an incident that occurred when they were mere 10 year olds. When the mysterious Margo climbs through his window a few weeks before graduation with a plan for an evening of revenge, Q is sucked into a whole new world. Margo has been known to disappear for days on end, so when she goes missing the next morning nobody really thinks twice at first. Soon though, Q finds himself consumed with thoughts of Margo's disappearance and how this mystery was meant for him to solve.

I loved Q's passion for finding Margo in Paper Towns. He was willing to skip prom and graduation in order to focus on searching for clues that would help him find Margo. I was on the edge of my seat for much of this book, very eager to discover if Margo was okay and whether or not she and Q would get their happy ending. The way in which Green worked Whitman's Leaves of Grass into the story was interesting. I don't remember much about reading it in high school, but I'd be curious to revisit it now.

I loved Margo for her sense of adventure and the planning she put into all of her wild ideas, but I also felt sorry for her. She was this normal teenage girl who felt the pressure of high school and popularity closing in on her. I have definitely felt like disappearing off the grid for awhile to get my thoughts straight or start fresh. Q had this romanticized idea of the girl he thought she was, but really she was full of flaws and insecurities. It was a very realistic portrayal of how people think about their crushes, especially in high school. Despite beginning to see that Margo was not the girl in his head, he continued on his journey to find her along with the company of their best friends. I love a book with a good love story or a road trip, so this was a win for me. While Margo went on this adventure to find herself, she was able to help Q find himself as well. I thought the ending was perfect, but I won't spoil that for you if you haven't read it yet!

My rating: 4 stars


Books I Read in 2010!

2010 was another great year of reading for me. I started keeping track of the number of books I read per year back in 2006. In 2007 I began setting a goal for myself of 50 books per year. I read exactly 50 books the first two years I did this and then last year I made it all the way up to 70 books. In 2010 I read 71 books, so I'm still improving! Here is my list.

1. Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
2. The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
3. The Girl In the Lighthouse by Roxane Tepfer Sanford
4. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
5. Between the Tides by Patti Callahan Henry
6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
7. The Pieces From Berlin by Michael Pye
8. Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin
9. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
10. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
11. How To Be Good by Nick Hornby
12. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
13. Dogrun by Arthur Nersesian
14. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
15. One For the Money by Janet Evanovich
16. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
17. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
18. Wake by Lisa McMann
19. Fade by Lisa McMann
20. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
21. The Pact by Jodi Picoult
22. Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange
23. Saving the World by Julia Alvarez
24. Two For the Dough by Janet Evanovich
25. The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
26. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
27. The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard
28. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
29. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
30. The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
31. Gone by Lisa McMann
32. Tipperary by Frank Delaney
33. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
34. The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
35. The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
36. The Keep by Jennifer Egan
37. Three To Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich
38. Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs
39. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
40. Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon
41. Fishbowl by Sarah Mlynowski
42. The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis
43. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
44. Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner
45. Numb by Sean Ferrell
46. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
47. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
48. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
49. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
50. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
51. Evernight by Claudia Gray
52. Burned by Ellen Hopkins
53. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
54. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
55. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
56. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
57. The Line by Teri Hall
58. Going Bovine by Libba Bray
59. Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
60. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
61. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
62. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
63. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
64. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
65. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
66. The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
67. Love Is A Mixtape by Rob Sheffield
68. Hate List by Jennifer Brown
69. Paper Towns by John Green
70. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
71. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I've set myself a goal of 50 more books in 2011. I don't expect to have nearly as much time for reading now that I'm working at a new job. I'm also going to continue trying to read the books already on my shelves and get through some more classics.

What about you guys? How did you do in 2010 and what book related goals have you set for yourself in the new year?