Buddy Read – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

May 2017 – Janelle’s choice

 

Big Magic

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2015

Genres: Non-Fiction / Self-help

 

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”

Elizabeth Gilbert is a champion of creative living, and in this book she shares tips on pushing past fear, giving yourself permission, and committing, to live out your most creative dreams.

 

Janelle says…

This is my second time reading this book, and while I can see why others have taken fault with it, I still love it. This is Liz Gilbert’s call to creativity, a kick-up-the-bum that we all sometimes need. Applicable to whatever your form of creative outlet is, this book quashes the usual excuses for not starting that project, or making time to do something you love, or taking that chance. Fear/time/embarrassment/lack of confidence….she covers it all. This book is your permission slip to allow yourself to do whatever it is that you truly yearn to do. In fact she says so herself in the book, she personally gives you permission!

Admittedly, at times this book does get a bit woo-woo. But while I don’t necessarily believe in Gilbert’s way of viewing how ideas are born and realised, I do think it’s a fun and motivating way of thinking about it. Meditating on the thought that if you don’t pick up a floating idea and do something about it, it will move on to someone else, does make me feel more inclined to take my ideas seriously lest I lose them.

I don’t really get why Gilbert cops such a lashing from critics and readers, I think she deserves to be cut some slack. I loved Eat Pray Love, and I love Big Magic. The first time I experienced Big Magic was on audio, and I felt so inspired I wanted to shout from the mountaintop about all the amazing things it made me want to do with my life. In the time between reading this the first time and reading it the second time, I have taken a big step in making one of my creative dreams come to fruition, and reading this again while knowing that I AM already allowing myself my creative freedom made me so happy and proud. And honestly, Big Magic did play a part in giving me the nudge that I needed to get going.

If you have ideas or hobbies or passions, or even if you don’t but you’d like to, let Elizabeth Gilbert inspire you to make your life full of beautiful creativity!

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

 

Mel says…

I’m going to start by stating that I am not a creative person, in that I don’t write (aside from this blog), paint, build, dance or play music. I wish I had a creative bone in my body, but sadly I have attempted all of the above and I just don’t have the talent or patience for such things.

With that said, I found it hard to connect with Big Magic. I would read several pages and get bored, put the book down and not touch it for days.

There was the occasional passage that I found intriguing, such as Liz Gilbert’s theory on Multiple Discovery. I like to think that ideas are out in the Universe, just waiting for their creator to grab them with both hands and mould them into something brilliant. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy, for some strange reason.

Aside from this, I have to admit I did a lot of skimming and then decided to give up after 3/4 of the way through. I apologise to my sister, who I know loves this book, but I just could not relate and so will forever more be a huge fan of creativity, but I was not created to be the creator…

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

 

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Buddy Read – The Girls by Emma Cline

March 2017 – Mel’s choice

The Girls

by Emma Cline

Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

“I didn’t tell him that I wished I’d never met Suzanne. That I wished I’d stayed safely in my bedroom in the dry hills near Petaluma, the bookshelves packed tight with the gold-foil spines of my childhood favourites. And I did wish that. But some nights, unable to sleep, I peeled an apple slowly at the sink, letting the curl lengthen under the glint of the knife. The house dark around me. Sometimes it didn’t feel like regret. It felt like a missing.”

1969. California. Fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd is living a standard suburban teenage life- trying to make sense of her split family situation, learning about herself, noticing boys. And noticing the group of scruffy, devil-may-care girls who keep crossing her path. Something about them is alluring to her. One of them in particular sticks in her mind, and through some coincidental events, Evie manages to weave her way into their group and become entwined in their lives. Living off the grid, she experiences drugs and sex, and very quickly leaves her old life behind. However the influence of the group’s “leader”, Russell, is about to become something more than she could have ever foreseen.

 

Mel says…

I chose this book for our March Buddy Read as I had heard such amazing reviews. Celebrities were posting about it and it made me want to find out what all the fuss was about.

At the start, I enjoyed the writing style of Emma Cline. The back and forth from past to present was intriguing, for about half the book. I found the present day Evie to become irrelevant. There seemed no real logical explanation for bothering with present day Evie. She added zero value to the storyline, in my opinion and I began getting irritated when I would turn the page and there she would be, for the next 10-20 pages.

From start to finish, I was expecting something….more. I felt like I was constantly on the brink of some huge revelation in Evie’s life, that never came. She was the kind of protagonist that you wish would be killed off in the dying pages. She was infuriating and I just couldn’t get on board with her way of thinking, even when I tried stepping back into teenage-Mel’s shoes.

I think the saving grace for me was the plot itself. I have always been intrigued with real life crime stories and this was very closely related to the Charles Manson story. The cult following, the era and the murders. This is what kept me reading and I have to admit, by the end, I was somewhat relieved it was over and was severely disappointed!

It took me weeks to write this review after finishing The Girls. Partly because of my poor time management, but mainly due to the fact that as the days wore on, I forgot what actually occurred. If I could sum this book up in one word it would be; Forgettable!

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

Well, it started out ok.

It’s no secret that this story is meant to be reminiscent of the evolution of the Manson family. But if you’re going into it expecting a lot of gruesome details and a focus on the murders, you’ll be disappointed. This is a story about puberty, love, friendships, and learning about oneself – your limitations, your image, your self-restraint.

As far as a book that studies the above topics goes, it doesn’t do a bad job. If I was reading this about 15 years ago, I probably would have felt very connected to the internal challenges that the main character Evie faces. I could definitely identify with her at certain times, particularly in her defiant moments.

But…..that’s it. In all honesty I just found this to be, well, boring. I had the scene all figured out within the first 100 pages or so, I didn’t need it to go on with the same stuff for the next 250. It probably didn’t help that I had already read reviews and opinions on this book when it first came out, but still, that didn’t stop me wanting to read it. Now that I have read it though, I found it lacking in substance, and basically just forgettable.

Teens and other people into YA would probably really enjoy this, but personally I think I just can’t be interested in teenage girl problems. I wasn’t interested in them when I was a teenage girl myself. Sorry not sorry.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Flat – A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses

by Sarah J. Maas

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction/Fantasy/Young Adult

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal but Tamlin – one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As Feyre dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility to a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it…or doom Tamlin – and his world – forever.


Mel says…

When I first decided to read this book, I didn’t really know much about it except that images of the cover were all over Instagram and blog posts, so I knew it had a lot of fans. I’m not usually into too much fantasy, but was excited to give this a read nonetheless.

My first impressions were pretty good. I devoured the first quarter of this book fairly quickly, but then I started to get bored of it. Too much of the characteristics of the protagonist, Feyre (pronounced, Fay-ruh) reminded me of The Hunger Games protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. For one, her family was poor and living in starvation – same as Katniss. Two, she had to hunt to feed her family – same as Katniss. Three, she was described as being a tomboy, yet beautiful – same as Katniss. The similarities between ACoTR and The Hunger Games didn’t stop there, but you get the picture.

The main focus of this story centres around Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship. It is described as ‘burning passion’, so you know it is going to be juicy. I found the relationship between them to actually be pretty boring. It seemed like it went from pure hatred on day 1 to passion and sex on day 4. Maybe not in that exact timeline, but it was that quick of a shift, that you get the point. I found it confusing, but I also found that some of the plot and descriptive writing fell flat. I struggled to picture a fair few of the characters as the descriptions weren’t written well.

This is one of those books where I found the main character so irritating, that I struggled to keep reading at times. For whatever reason, Maas kept jamming down our throats that Feyre was a painter. With every description of scenery, Feyre would think ‘if only I could paint this’, or ‘I tried to store every line of his face in my memory, so I could paint him later’. This happened all. the. TIME! We get it, she likes to paint. Moving on…

I know I have slammed this book with my above comments, but in the end, I finished it with the intent of seeking out the second book in the series. I’m in no hurry to read the second book, but I will eventually, when I need a bit of a ‘nothing’ book to fill some time. Seeing as this book took me a month to read, when the text is actually quite large and I didn’t really engage with many of the characters, I can’t give it anymore than 2-stars. Sorry!

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Lacking – The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

by Dominic Smith

IMG_20160414_145412

Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

 

“By the time Gabriel came to her with the commission for At the Edge of a Wood, she had saved close to ten thousand dollars – so she technically didn’t need the money. He said the present owner wanted an exact replica made but couldn’t bear to part with the original. She remained skeptical and told him that copying an artwork was not the same as restoring it. But when he produced three high-resolution color photographs of the painting in its frame she felt her breath catch – it was unlike anything else painted by a baroque woman.”

Split narratives intertwine to reveal the path of Sara de Vos’ illusive 17th century painting, At the Edge of a Wood, and its forged copy. From Sara’s life, struggles and motives, to the most recent owner of the painting, a wealthy Manhattan socialite in the 1950’s, to the naive student skilled in art restoration and living in 1950’s Brooklyn, to the modern-day exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which could be the setting for the truth to reveal itself.

 

Janelle says…

 

The more time I have to think about this book since finishing it, the more dissatisfied I feel about it. I don’t even have a lot to say about it, because there’s really just not that much to say. Not much happened in this book!

There’s a painting from the 17th century, which has found its way into the home of a wealthy family in the 1950’s, only to be stolen and forged at the same time, and then in the 2000’s both the original and the forgery rise to the surface ahead of an upcoming exhibition on Dutch women painters of the 17th century at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Even after the reading the book though, there are still holes in my mind as to the movements of the painting, so that’s about the best I can do in outlining the story.

I heard about this book and actually assumed it might have a light thriller or mystery-type feel to it, and so I was excited when I found a competition to win an advance copy on the publisher Allen & Unwin’s site. And then even more excited when I actually won the advance copy! I bumped it to the top of my TBR list and started reading it, but I found it hard to stay focussed on the words. I realised I was bored, twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen, but I stuck with it because I was sure something would happen. It had the makings of an interesting and surprising story that I could get on board with – there were literary aspects, the touches of history and culture, museum life which is something to which I can relate to and understand…..all it needed was some kind of event or revelation. So I kept reading (slowly), and then when I got to the end, finally something semi-interesting did happen, but then the book finished quite suddenly in the middle of a scene, and what I thought could actually have been a great scene had it been allowed to continue! What the?

I can sniff undertones of feminism here, in both the scenes from the 1630’s featuring Sara de Vos, and the 2000’s when we follow Eleanor Shipley, but that’s something I’ve realised may have been there only since reading the book and trying to find some kind of message, they weren’t formed ideas that were clear during the reading of it.

It might seem an obvious recommendation to people who are into art or museum culture, but I’m not sure even those people would find this interesting. It wasn’t a total blowout. I didn’t hate it. It just didn’t leave any impression at all. Still, I’m going to stick with the rating I gave it on Goodreads straight after finishing it.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Unfulfilling – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies

by Lauren Groff

fates and furies

Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary

 

“Up there rose the ghosts of parties, of themselves when they were younger, too dumb to understand that they were ecstatic.

Whatever happened to all of those friends of ours? Lotto wondered. The ones who had seemed so essential had faded away. Nerd princes with their twins in strollers, Park Slope and craft beers. Arnie, who owned a bar empire, still doing girls with plates in their ears and jailhouse tattoos. Natalie now a CFO of some Internet start-up in San Francisco, a hundred others faded off. The friends had been whittled down. The ones who remained were heartwood, marrow.”

Lotto and Mathilde meet in college and marry soon after, seemingly star-crossed infatuated lovers. And despite the trials of adulthood – financial stress, lack of job stability etc. – their love for each other seems steadfast. Lotto is the star, an actor-turned-playwright, beloved by all, centre of many a crush. Mathilde meanwhile plays the supportive spouse – happy to linger humbly out of the spotlight, taking care of household matters. But out of the spotlight, is that how they see it?

 

Janelle says…

So far, I’m the only person I know who was underwhelmed by this book which has otherwise been raved about. Maybe it was just a case of “wrong book, wrong time”, but I couldn’t wait to reach the end of it.

Fates and Furies was released in late 2015 to much acclaim – it was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award, a finalist as a fiction nominee for the 2015 Kirkus Prize, and a nominee for the 2015 Goodreads Readers Choice Award for Fiction. All this in the 5 months since it was published.

In case you haven’t heard about it, to quote the beginning of just about every review of this book so far – “It’s a book about marriage”. Although I believe that’s subjective. Maybe it would be more accurate to say it’s a book about the cliched heterosexual marriage. The husband is the shining star, the proud breadwinner, the very obvious head of the partnership. The wife – his admiring supporter, discreetly managing the many little details of life behind-the-scenes so that the surface displays a tidy, perfect, well-managed operation. Although how they each see themselves and each other are not necessarily aligned.

The book is split in two – the “Fates” half told by the husband, Lotto, with “Furies” told from Mathilde’s viewpoint. To be honest, I was bored about halfway through “Fates”, but I forced myself to stick with it in the hope that “Furies” would bring grand revelations and plenty of shocked gasping. It did not. For me anyway, I’ve heard other people have had this reaction to it though.

 

“Somehow, despite her politics and smarts, she had become a wife, and wives, as we all know, are invisible. The midnight elves of marriage. The house in the country, the apartment in the city, the taxes, the dog, all were her concern: he had no idea what she did with her time.”

 

I certainly understand that the author is trying to make a feminist point, and that it’s a commentary on the union of a traditional marriage – the purpose of a man in a relationship, and the purpose of a woman. The man in this book doesn’t live up to what he believes his purpose as a husband is supposed to be (for some of the book anyway), and the woman does believe she is living up to her supposed purpose as a wife but doesn’t necessarily agree with it. That’s how I interpreted it anyway.

But try as I might, I just couldn’t gel with the author’s abstract way of writing. I had to read over many paragraphs at least twice, my mind just couldn’t latch on to the words a lot of the time and it was too easy to be distracted by other things. And I think this could be an issue with me and this particular author in general. I started listening to another of her novels on audiobook at the same time that I was reading this in print, and I couldn’t stand to listen to it for more than about half an hour before I was completely lost and frustrated.

Also, the characters. I couldn’t have cared less for them and just wanted them out of my life. Total narcissists, although one was worse than the other. I know it goes against the moral of the story, but at times I just wanted to yell at them – “Hey guys? #firstworldproblems, ok?”

Maybe I just completely missed the point because the writing style wasn’t for me. Anyway, I truly am very disappointed to be the only person in the world who didn’t love this book, but hey – that’s what’s wonderful about the reading experience. You don’t have to love what everyone else does!

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Read together: June 2015 – The Fever by Megan Abbott

June 2015 – Mel’s choice

The Fever

by Megan Abbott

the fever

Published June 2014

Genres: Fiction / Thriller / Young Adult

‘You spend a long time waiting for life to start – her past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant – and then it does start and you realize it isn’t what you’d expected, or asked for.’ – Deenie Nash.

The Fever follows the story of the three Nashes; Tom, Eli and Deenie. They live in the quiet town of Dryden, where Tom is a teacher at the Dryden High School and Eli and Deenie attend as students. It doesn’t take long for things in this quiet town to start falling apart when two of Deenie’s close friends are the first to fall victim to a mysterious illness, or The Fever. But what is this affliction, and why is it only affecting girls?

Mel says…

My initial feeling for this book began with an excitement. The synopsis on the back cover described a story full of mystery and enticement. The first few chapters started off describing the first victim of the mysterious “fever” and it felt like the readers were in for a very interesting ride. It wasn’t until I was roughly half way through the book that I began realising that the story was waffling back and forth between reasons of this mysterious illness, yet nothing exciting had yet occurred within the plot. The story was very slow to build, and even now that I have finished the book, I am not entirely sure if there was a build at all.

The plot ran back and forth between reasons for this mysterious “fever”, but not delving into much of a storyline for either reason. The character development also felt disjointed. I did not build much of a rapport with any of the main characters, as I felt their back stories were rushed. I did get a sense of the teenage angst that I feel Megan Abbott was trying to get across, through the characters of Deenie, Lise, Gabby and Skye. The moods that were described for the characters did portray this however, there was not enough context around these characters to get a full sense of their back stories, which would lead to these current feelings and events. Gabby, in particular, had a very tragic back story however, apart from having a brief description and then touching on her tragedy in various other parts of the book, this back story was rarely mentioned as her characters demise in the end.

This brings me to victims of the mysterious illness. The story eventually describes how the first victim, Lise, came to be so ill. When I say eventually, I actually mean this is described in the final 30-odd pages of the book. Not a lot of space to provide any interesting and exciting cliffhangers or resolutions. Sigh!

All in all, this book had a lot of potential. I think Megan Abbott needed an extra hundred or so pages to build on her characters and the ending. The briskness of description in this book has been the let down here.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Janelle says…

I was stoked when Mel picked this book for our first joint read, it was also right up there on my own list of books I wanted to choose!  Oooh, maybe it’s some kind of weird sister ESP thing or something…..

The Fever is about growing up, and trying to understand how you and your world are changing as you cross that blurry line between childhood and adulthood. That phase of life can be scary and awkward, just like this story. Puberty is a place filled with intense emotions and confusion, generally a place best forgotten once we’re past it. As I was reading, I could feel that familiar teenage state coming through in the characters as they tried to understand what was happening in their little part of the world – relationships are over-analysed, games are played, nothing else in the world is as important as what is happening to you and your friends right now. In The Fever, we’re shown how dangerous decisions can be when they’re made in times of extreme emotion and without proper judgement, as decisions made in puberty sometimes are. Beware of hormonal teenagers!

I found at most times the pace of this book was too slow for me. The chapters consist of lots of smaller sub-chapters representing different characters’ points of view. While being handy for those moments when you only have time to read a short snippet, it meant that the story was jumping around constantly between characters, sometimes twice or more over the course of a double-page spread. You might think that this would have the effect of speeding the pace up, and it probably would have, if the story didn’t get stuck on the never-ending speculation of what was happening to the girls, why it’s happening, and the same old theories being thrown around again, and again, and again. And oh look – again! It seemed to be at a stand-still a lot of the time, and it didn’t take long for me to feel frustrated by the lack of anything happening.

I think the way the chapters were formed could also be the reason for why I didn’t feel very connected to any of the characters. You’re with one character for a few paragraphs, and then suddenly their view stops and you’re back with someone else. But then again, most of the characters are teenagers and are very obviously still figuring themselves out, so in a way it didn’t feel completely unreasonable to not fully understand who they were.

There was a point about 2/3 of the way through where the story seemed to pick up intensity and suspense, and I felt like it was finally speeding towards something. But I have to say, I was underwhelmed by the ending. All in all, I had high hopes for this book because I’d read some good reviews but I was disappointed, and disappointed to be disappointed because I think it could have been something amazing!

Read this if you’re a teenager yourself, you will probably empathise with the personal struggles that the younger characters are dealing with. Don’t read this if you’re expecting a gripping, dark YA thriller like I was, it’s halfway there but doesn’t fully deliver.

If you do want to read a review of this book that delivers on the funnies though, check out this on Goodreads.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

Linking up with The Ultimate Rabbit Hole at The Annoyed Thyroid

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