Books! Reviews of Books! (Part 1, Book List 2)

Here we go! Finally! I am plugging away at completing the reading list you helped me create way way way back in AUGUST. Oh my god, almost a year ago. Holy Jeebus, where does the time go? I added 1 book to the list and read it first because miss Maris wouldn’t stop poking me about it. See what peer pressure does to you? Book bullying is a thing, I swear.

First up, World War Z. There is a moving (coming?) out with Brad Pitt and I really don’t know how that movie is going to do the book any justice. I’m not going to tell you much about this book because part of the awesome is just diving in without a tun of information. You know it is zombies, but that just scratches the surface. This book is smart. Really smart. It isn’t just about O-M-G zombies, it’s about how the world would realistically handle it. It is seriously really really good. Go read it before seeing the movie – I think it will be worth it. My only meh issue? The ending is kind of like “Oh… it’s over? Ok.” So there’s that. But I’m still thinking about parts of the book to this day – it’s one of those reads (you know the ones).

Next up, The Magicians. Ok… a lot of people love this book and it took me a really really long time to get into it. At first I was like, “yeah yeah… a more adult Harry Potter, this will be fun fluffy magic fluff.” And I was ok with that, I really was. I love me some good old fashioned fluffy magic fluff. Bring it on. But the main character? I found incredibly difficult to life. I guess that goes for all of the characters except 1. I wanted to shake their stupid entitled little heads until they figured out they were just stupid and entitled and should maybe shut up already. But then! I realized! (And maybe you realized this too when you read it, or will have a headsup when you read it and will possibly spend more time enjoying it and less time annoyed with the characters) I think the whole “un-likeable” part is the point. I think that this book is more complicated, character-wise, than I gave it credit for until the last chapter. I saw it as wizardry-in-the-normal-world (seen it, been there, done that). And it was, but it wasn’t. This is magic as if it was ACTUALLY happening to real people. Not gold hearted heroes, not evil-for-pure-evil’s sake. This book isn’t about misfits or the underdog, it’s about really really smart kids who are used to being the best and the brightest and how they are pretty much whiny entitled shit-heads who drink too much and don’t understand consequences. Plus magic. Right up until the end I was like “WHY is there ANY hype about this book at ALL? UGH!” But then I finished it and texted Maris, “You kind of have to read this book immediately,” because I got it. Whoever has read this book before – what was your take? I want to hear what you thought because this is by far the most up and down I’ve felt about a book in a really long time.

So after two semi-fantastical worlds, I needed some real life-ness. Enter: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Are you a literature nerd? Do you love books… especially the kind you read in college and senior year of high school? Do you dig stories about weird families? There is something about graphic novels that are really really intense for me. The visuals paired with the story, the total big picture of it all, it’s a totally different and really intense experience. If you have never read a graphic novel before I suggest starting with Blankets. Fun Home is both a coming of age story, a memoir of a family affected by a father’s inability to come out, and about a daughter coming to terms with her father’s death. It’s deep and intense and littered with amazing literary references. It took me longer than usual to finish it because the emotional weight left me needing to take moments to stare out at the world zooming past me while I sat in the train. This is a piece of art. I would really love to hear what people think of it if they pick it up having never experienced a graphic novel before.

Annnnd coming in at #4, Never Let Me Go, and I had 0 inkling of what it could be about before I started reading. So, I’m not going to give very much away, because trying to figure out what the eff is going on was the best part of the experience for me. I will say this: even though I understand why Kazuo Ishiguro used a very child-like, surface-level narrator for this story … it got boring. Is that weird? I don’t think this book was intended to be boring. I’m pretty sure my front cover says “couldn’t put it down!” or something very similar. But… I ended up skimming giant paragraphs of back-story that doesn’t move the story along AT ALL and only goes into details that an immature child-like story teller would focus on. And I GET IT, I get why the narrator is like that, but who can sit and listen to a character like that tell a long drawn out history of some such thing for the length of a novel? Classic example of what I’m talking about (this is not actual text, just the general concept of how it’s set up):

“And that leads me to a really interesting story about when so and so and I had a huge falling out that changed our relationship forever. But first I have to tell you about the duck pond.”

Ahhh! I don’t want to hear about the duck pond! I want to hear about the big revelation that you just teased! Why are we going 2 steps forward and then 10 steps back? <– frustrated reader.

Good things about the story: It reminded me a lot of A Handmaids Tale and that is a very good thing. But, I also couldn’t get The Handmaid’s Tale’s voice out of my head and I kept wishing it was MORE like The Handmaid’s Tale. I am a freak for Atwood, I can’t help it. Oh, and it definitely pulled at my heart strings. I almost cried.

Weird thing about the story that may only have to do with me and my weirdness: It totally grossed me out and made me woozy. I’m especially sensitive to medical-type-stuff. And even MORE SO when it is just hinted at and my brain has to do all of the filling in, because wow my brain does some EXCELLENT filling in and ew. I had to stop reading it on the train several times because it was making me so woozy. So beware, if you are someone who had to leave health class because they were going to pass out.

**Now then… Who has read these? What did you think? I’m dying to have someone to talk about them with! Round two of reviews will be up in a few weeks! Annnnnd a used-book giveaway coming soon. Yay!

50 thoughts on “Books! Reviews of Books! (Part 1, Book List 2)”

  1. Oooh, yay! Book nerd time! 😀

    The Magicians — YES! I really struggled with this book, mostly because I found the main character to be so whiny (the other characters I could somehow forgive, but the main character — probably because we spend so much time with him — drove me nuts). BUT. After some time away from it, I think I can agree it was a really good book. Lev Grossman is actually a book critic, and he’s given a LOT of fascinating interviews about writing The Magicians. It kind of made me look at the book in a new way.

    I LOVED Never Let Me Go — got TOTALLY wrapped up in it — but. I do totally get what you’re saying about the narrator. I thought the book spent a bit too much time on their childhood/adolescent years. I wanted to see them more as adults, out and interacting with the real world (which, I guess is the point? They couldn’t really do this? But still. I WANTED IT). But yeah, definitely thought it was a very powerful book.

    I haven’t read any graphic novels in FOREVER, and kind of miss them…I’ll be checking those recs out!

  2. Oh my gosh, I totally loved World War Z. Also, if you want, there is a truly stellar audio book version of it– they got all different readers for each different person in the book and it is amazing. I read the book, then listened to the audiobook maybe a year later and it was great.

    As for the book vs. the movie, I think this about sums it up: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/wwz

    And I didn’t really like Never Let Me Go all that much. I totally agree- it reminded me a lot of The Handmaid’s Tale, but it just wasn’t… 100% as great as it could have been.

    Yay books! I haven’t read the other two, so I will check them out! 🙂

    1. Ok that Oatmeal comic is perfect and dead-on accurate. I went in to the movie knowing it couldn’t fully live up to the book and I was STILL super disappointed.

  3. I’ve now requested World War Z and Blankets from the library. Yay!

    Yes, the characters are not particularly likable in The Magicians. But they are real, which I appreciated. I think that the characters in Harry Potter are somewhat realistic. They screw up and have weird crushes and feel jealous or left out or petty… But I’d never meet someone who I could say was really LIKE any of them. But we all know people that are like the characters in The Magicians. I mean, who hasn’t drank too much or failed to understand consequences!?

    The sequel is darker, and interesting. I’m still torn on how I feel about it, but I’d recommend it, too, if only so we could talk about it!

    1. I preferred the sequel. Reading the Magicians I was underwhelmed. I wanted an amazing book about stumbling into the world of magic and all sorts of fantasy adventure and excitement, and instead it was a book about complex characters and the nature of happiness and contentment with this sneaky message about how getting everything you want doesn’t make you happy. It took me a long time to like this book (though now I want to re-read it).

      The Magician King has a lot more of what I wanted from the Magicians, while still maintaining the human element.

      1. I agree with Sheryl. I liked The Magicians, because I felt like “Oh, they’re smart college kids. I know how that goes and how they would act in real life (minus the magic part)”, so it didn’t really bother me. But in the sequel, there’s more magic world stuff happening – love!

  4. I totally agree about world war z. The beginning-middle was the best. The end was like “oh…okay.” there was no crescendo at the end, it just kind of fizzled out. but the first part was great.

    I have the magicians on my ipad and i can’t wait to read it!!

    Never let me go was so haunting, but I actually LOVED ishiguro’s other book “the remains of the day.” he is such a subtle writer and it really comes out in that.

    what’s next on your list? I have a book by nate silver (the signal and the noise), gone girl, and a book about the soviet gulags (…called “gulag”) on my ipad for some light summer reading!

    1. I really loved Gone Girl, and then started reading the other books by that author… and they are all have a common theme (which i won’t go into, in case people haven’t read any of her books yet), that is completely fascinating. some of her books are more disturbing than others, but I thought about them for days and days afterwards, which is always a good sign.

      1. I didn’t love Gone Girl for the same reason Peabody_Bites mentions, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE Gillian Flynn’s two other mysteries, Dark Places being my favorite.

        1. I think part of the reason why I liked Gone Girl is because about I couldn’t stop thinking about what kind of person it would take to… do the stuff in the book. And there is some pretty off-the-wall crap that happens in the real world- how realistic is this? Could this happen? What would the real-world reaction be? Kind of fascinating- I assume the human potential for craziness is pretty infinite.

          1. Yes! I second (or third?) a Gone Girl read, preferably going into not knowing anything about anything. Same goes for ROOM.

      1. Oh I’m so excited you’re reading The Likeness. I’ve become a total Tana French pusher with people who ask me for book recommendations. I started with The Likeness and then went back to read In The Woods (didn’t like it as much as The Likeness but yay backstory on Cassie), and then “forward” to read Faithful Place (which is from the perspective of Frank Mackey who you’ll meet soon in The Likeness). I love the way she takes different characters that you only peripherally know and has them as the main narrator in the next book. I just finished the most recent, Broken Harbor, a couple of weeks ago. I absolutely LOVE her writing and The Likeness remains my favorite… enjoy!

  5. I haven’t ever heard of The Magicians, but it definitely seems like something I should check out. I did enjoy Never Let me Go, mostly because I think it was the first dystopian fiction I ever read. Remains of the Day is a fabulous and deeply subtle book, should you want to give him another chance.

    I think you might really enjoy The Night Circus – magic and circuses and love and stories; I adored it and got completely wrapped up in its world in a way which is unusual for me.

    I confess I thought the first half of gone girl very compelling, and the second half absurd. There isn’t much more you can say about it, without spoiling it, so I won’t. But I definitely wished I had taken it from the library rather than buying it.

    I can’t work out if I am late to the Tigers in Red Weather party – it seemed like a lot of people recommended it last summer, but I only just got to it. Interesting novel about family dynamics, the meaning of home and long hot summers.

    I also just finished Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, because we moved house in October and I am only just now starting to feel at home in it, so I thought it might be useful. And yes it is super peppy and occasionally a little smug, but actually I found it throughtful and interesting and will be trying to implement a couple of her suggestions. I thought I would mention since you said you might be moving.

    Coming up on my list: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz’s short stories (I am sure you have read Oscar Wao but if not it truly was one of my favourite novels of 2011. Hilarious.), and The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz. Also by my bed – Little Women, because I find it never gets old.

    PS latest pictures of baby Gabe – SO sweet.

    1. Night Circus will ABSOLUTELY be on the next reading list because sooo many people keep recommending it to me. I’m pretty excited about it, actually. 🙂

      I’m fascinated to hear what you think of Junot Diaz’s short stories – so definitely keep me posted. I have not read them, but I’m always looking for interesting new story collections to read.

  6. Chad book bullied me about WWZ for the longest time!! He read it YEARS ago, before we got into The Walking Dead. And THEN he bullied me even MORE…’babe. im telling you. you are obsessed with The Walking Dead, you will love WWZ…just read it.”. And THEN, here comes the movie, haha! He is like SEE, I TOLD YOU, YOU SHOULDVE READ THE BOOK!!!! So we will be seeing the movie very soon and I am sure i will be reading the book not long after that. But he has already gone into lengths about the differences based on what he has seen in the previews already, lol. I cant wait to hear if you go see the movie and what you think!

  7. I have read World War Z and Never Let me Go.
    I feel like you are spot on with World War Z. I read it a number of years ago but recall very vividly the thought “this is much better than I thought it would be”. It is stirring in all the right ways. Did you ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy?

    I also appreciated your analysis of Never Let Me Go. That is an interesting perspective and I can definitely see how you could feel that way. I just bought into it so completely that it never crossed my mind. I adore the book but I can see how she could be annoying if you weren’t 100% buying the shtick of it. I am going to have to give this Magicians a shot, sounds good.

    1. I have not read The Road…. I tried to watch the movie but then had to stop because it was way way way too upsetting. I wonder if I could handle it in book form.

      1. the road is one of my top five favorite books of all time. it definitely is an ugly cry book, but it is…SO powerful. it’s definitely not as graphic as some of his other stuff (like blood meridien…), but again, he’s subtle about it. so that’s better, but also worse? i HIGHLY recommend it.

      2. Well, if we’re talking about books making us ugly cry, I’m sure many of you have already read it, but The Fault in Our Stars. Brutal. Like, my husband coming in from another room to see what’s wrong kind of crying.

        1. Yes! The Fault in our Stars! Such a great book. And I usually don’t like books that make me cry, but I loved that one.

      3. I read the book and I’ve had nightmares about it literally for years. Anytime something reminds me of that book, I have a nightmare. And I’m not normally that type of person so…fair warning.

  8. FINALLY, someone else who was underwhelmed by Never Let Me Go. I didn’t like the narrative voice much either, and thought some of the segues and dialogue were clunky.

    Don’t even bother seeing World War Z. I love love loved the book (all that detail! So…much…delicious…detail!) and the movie incorporates almost none of it, and tacks on an insultingly stupid generic action-thrilller plotline. So disappointing.

    1. I think I’m definitely going to have to separate the movie from the book in my mind…. my curiousity about seeing it will get the best of me… but I’m doomed to be ragey and frustrated. And I bet Kamel will like it and I’ll have to be all “But! nooooo! The book!!”

  9. The only one of these that I’ve read is Fun Home, which I thought lived up to the hype about it.

    Have you read Room by Emma Donoghue? I haven’t read Never Let Me Go, but Room also has a child narrator. I think it worked well in that book, I’m reading Atonement by Ian McEwan now and it is also partially narrated by a child. It’s interesting, but I’m glad to have the other voices too!

    (Yay for book reviews! I’m so excited to read these!)

    1. Ah, this narrator isn’t a child, but the voice is very child-like due to the sheltered-ness of the narrator’s situation. I generally really LOVE child narrators, they end up being much more honest and poignant than grown up narrators a lot of the time. I have never read Atonement, but I saw the movie in theatres by myself and it totally slayed me.

  10. I feel about Never Let Me Go how you felt about The Magicians (which I haven’t read). I felt it was very much like, okay, blah blah blah, okay, read on and on and on, and then I got to the end and I was like, OOOHHH. WAM. And then I loved it because my mind kind of spiraled off into the implications that the rest of the novel held, now that I knew what it was really about.

    Someone mentioned The Night Circus, and you should definitely read that. Also, if you’re into dark novels, try Caribou Island.

  11. I am the “medical type” and I “Never let me go” also made me extremely queasy / uneasy, I think because the whole story going on in the back is kind of creepy. I think I got a bit sick from reading it. However I really liked the movie, I think it is one of the rare cases where the movie is better than the book, I felt the characters in the film were more real, more human, mre alive whereas in the book everything was so cold and gray and sad.

  12. See, I loved The Magicians, in part because he didn’t make the main character terribly likeable. In fact, if that bothered you, you should never read the sequel. He gets worse, if that’s possible. But it’s a challenging book, which I really appreciated.

    I’ve never read Never Let Me Go, but I cried like a baby watching the movie. Oh my goodness, did I. So this might (?) be one of those times where the movie is more entertaining than the book, but I can’t vouch for that.

      1. The movie is not gross at all, you do not see any gorey details or blood or anything like that. At some point you see some of the characters in a hospital / care home but I do not think it would make you uneasy. Mark did not read the book, but unexpected (to him) liked the movie, I really liked it better than the book… there is Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley so it is very well acted and the landscapes are beautiful, and it really just brought the story to life you could feel the characters, and understand them better (in the book I think i was a bit annoyed at them maybe because of the child-like less of the narrator that you mention).

      2. The movie is definitely worth watching – not gross, very contemplative. Though I love love Carey Mulligan so I’m definitely biased. It’s a story that has resonated with me a long time after first reading it – though I remember being a bit bored at times while reading it. The movie left me with tears streaming down my face feeling like life was so precious – so a win, I’d say.

  13. I also loved The Magicians but the main character did irritate me, they all did, but I got so sucked into the story that I was able to look past it. I can see why you couldn’t get into it until the end though.

  14. I recommended The Magicians way back when and here was my review in Good Reads:

    While many reviews called it something along the lines of a “Harry Potter story for kids who grew up with Harry Potter and felt jaded and disappointed by not getting to go to Hogwarts and want a grittier version of a magical world,” I mostly enjoyed it despite not feeling jaded in the slightest about Harry Potter. Certainly dirtier and grittier, but with characters you cared about despite their sometimes awfulness and a world that you wanted to find out more about despite its ever-shifting rules and clear danger. Liked it enough to go get the next one. Not sure who/if I’d recommend it to. Not sure how I heard about it to begin with. Something vaguely unseemly/uncomfortable about it – and yet I was curious about how things would turn out, I wanted to keep reading it. So a solid 3 stars and I’m off to get the next installment.

    I went on to read the sequel and actually liked it a lot more – better defined magical world, though I agree with Caitlin, the main character gets LESS likable, somehow. But I’d recommend it – it’s a captivating world he’s created.

  15. Oh and on a Magical Realism note… The City and The City was quite the adventure of a read. I definitely like when there’s a (narrative) REASON that the “rules” within the world are the way they are. And The City and The City did this more beautifully than almost anything else I’ve ever read. The “rules” of the world were central to the plot in pretty much every way.

    Also I loved American Gods and am excited to read Neil Gaiman’s newest book that’s just coming out.

    I know you weren’t actually asking for more recommendations, but I just can’t help it. I’m glad you’re doing book reviews! Though goodness knows where you’re finding the time!

    1. There will definitely be a big big post in a few months for recs, but I love how everyone throws in their latest read! It is a great spot for discussion and for everyone else to load up their library cards. (Aww remember library cards? *nostalgia*….)

  16. I’ll have to check out the magicians, it seems up my alley (about shit that isn’t real). Maris has been book pressuring me about World War Z as well, but then I beat her back with more books she hasn’t read to get her off my case.

    I actually liked “Never Let Me Go” but I think I didn’t have a hard time with it because I’m pretty familiar with the genre, and I had recently re-read The Giver, which is in the same vein. Also, I LIKED it, but I definitely wouldn’t say love or really liked.

    I’ll have to look into the graphic novel…. those usually weird me out but I do love books about weird families.

    Nod to the girl above me, I have American gods checked out from the library waiting for me but I accidentally checked out devil in the White city at the same time and now American Gods is overdue and aaaagh. Stressful situations :).

    Btw if you haven’t read Glass Castle or Half-broken horses- DO IT NOW. Jeanette Walls is amazing and her stories (true non-fiction, not the James Frey bullshit) will blow you away.

    1. I do love Jeanette Walls – I liked Half Broke Horses much more than Glass Castle though I think that was due to content, her writing is excellent in both. And I’m so excited for you to get into American Gods! If you like Neil Gaiman I’d also very much recommend Neverwhere (though it’s totally different than American Gods). And as a PSA, I HATED Good Omens which was recommended to me so many times I decided to read it and actually palpably disliked it. That must be Terry Pratchett’s hand as a coauthor because I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Gaiman.

      1. I am very familiar with Half Broke Horses – LOVE that book. And American Gods was on the first book list I made. Totally 1 of my all time favorites. I heard they were going to make an HBO special about it, but I haven’t heard anything recently. But I would be reallllllly interested in how they could do that.

        1. I saw Jeanette walls speak last night to promote her new book and she is such a bamf! If you ever get an opportunity to see her speak, DO IT! She is so honest and funny and for the q&A she was like “ask me ANYTHING! I will never be embarrassed about answering a question”. She was amazing and I love her even more now.

          I’m excited for American Gods. I also recently read a book totally outside my comfort zone- Norwegian Wood. It was really different than my usual reads but it was really good and I felt like it really expanded my reading horizons.

      2. I love Neverwhere!!!! And I don’t know anyone else who has read it. I also really liked American Gods, but Neverwhere is one of my absolute favorite books!

  17. I dunno what the hell happened to my username above… woops my Survivor blog account got mixed into this one. Awkward! 🙂 Its Maddie J btw haha.

  18. So late commenting but I just can’t help myself.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who found Never Let Me Go boring. (And I am a dystopian novel junkie.) I will always compare everyone to Atwood and this does not come close. I liked it but don’t understand why everyone raves about it. I actually enjoyed the movie more which is super rare for me.

    UGH the WWZ movie was a huge bust. The book is brilliant and the movie did it zero justice.

    I read Fun Home in college and promptly gave copies of it as holiday gifts to friends & family. Loved it!

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