Monday, January 26, 2015

The Post-Birthday World

Summary/Review by Kristen

If anything is certain in this world besides death and taxes, it’s the fact that nobody is perfect. It’s an impossible concept. Even those with the most adamant desires cannot achieve a status of unadulterated perfection. But it’s also our abortive attempts at absolute perfection that can make us perfect in other ways, perfect to other people. It’s a cruel and abstruse abstract. And in our journey for this unviable state, we all make mistakes. We encounter pivotal moments in life when we must decide between comfort and the unknown. It’s often in those moments we change our lives for better or worse, and once we’ve made that decision, even if it’s for the best, the ever lingering question “what if?” tends to present itself. In The Post-Birthday World, Lionel Shriver gives readers the rare opportunity, to discover both outcomes of a life altering decision. It’s this plot that both highlights the realistic positives and negatives of both outcomes, and offers the inquisition that maybe we shouldn’t fear change but rather embrace life and the opportunities presented to us.

Shriver introduces readers to the main character, Irina McGovern. She’s an attractive middle-aged, talented illustrator, who carries her own self-confidence issues due to growing up with a perfect, overbearing mother. More notably, she’s been in the same relationship for ten years, but her boyfriend, Lawrence, is averse to the institution of marriage. So they live a content, comfortable life with each other. While in the earlier years there was passion and mystery, after a decade it seems they fell into the habit of routine and lackluster that many people experience. But this simple, predictable life seems to suit them.

Things change when Irina meets Ramsey Acton, a famous Snooker player in the United Kingdom, of whom Lawrence happens to be a tremendous fan. There’s an instant connection with Ramsey although she doesn’t recognize or accept this at first. He happens to be married to Jude, the author of a book with whom Irina is working.

Not so tragically, Ramsey and Jude divorce, and Irina finds herself being the only one available for his annual birthday gathering. After a night of good conversation, drinks, and even pot, Irina realizes how attracted she is to Ramsey. Every part of her wants to kiss him, and she finds herself at a crossroad. Ramsey being a gentleman, would never advance upon her, and she would have to choose what life she wanted to live. As he shows her how to play Snooker in his basement, she turns to wish him a happy birthday, and the reader is left to wonder if she takes the passionate plunge into the unknown, or stays loyal to her comfortable life with Lawrence.

One of the most interesting things about The Post-Birthday World is how Shriver creates two worlds for every chapter. The first revealing Irina’s life if she kissed Ramsey, and the second if she stayed loyal to Lawrence. In the first reality, we learn that Irina’s love for Ramsey is passionate and the two, although with little affinity, fit together perfectly. Irina is a well-educated woman, while Ramsey dropped out of school to play Snooker. And one of the vital things we learn is Ramsey, although a stand up gentlemen, has his own insecurities. But these insecurities end up damaging the relationship. He tends to get upset over small matters and then proceeds to fight with Irina for hours in a way that makes her always give into him until they make up and reunite their passion for each other through sex.

Despite Ramsey’s sensitivity and need to have his own way, he brings out a side of Irina to which she’s not accustomed. She learns to enjoy life and care less about pleasing others as opposed to pleasing herself. She leaves Lawrence and marries Ramsey within a year of being together. And while at first she falls behind in her work, she ends up writing her own children’s book and winning a coveted accolade as well.

Even more importantly, Ramsey makes her feel beautiful. He explicitly tells her how gorgeous she is, and reassures his love by putting his arms around her and keeping her close. With different interests and hobbies the couple was closer than most. Shriver demonstrates how sometimes, the most passionate love comes from one similar interest – the undying interest in each other.
In the second half of each chapter, Lionel Shriver introduces his audience to a major theme of the nineties decade. The concept of staying. In this version, Irina remains loyal to Lawrence and we’re introduced to the events that unravel due to her decision. Their relationship is merely comfortable, and while Lawrence appears to be a good, loyal man he becomes more distant as time passes. In this version, Irina’s life is planned, proper, and well-rehearsed. There are no surprises, she completes her illustrations on time, and writes a children’s book for which she doesn’t win an award. She also doesn’t have the satisfaction or chivalry of Lawrence standing up to her mother and defending her, but rather Lawrence obsequiously interacting with her kin.

As the book progresses, The Post-Birthday World exposes the counterpart of an unfaithful relationship. It’s a refreshing concept to be able to experience both viewpoints, and as always, being cheated on proves the most abhorrent situations. Lawrence ends up having an affair with a co-worker and leaves Irina. She’s left with her work, and a flat to remind her of her previously normal life. Her only hope is Ramsey, but as she learns, he’s fighting cancer and they are unable to reclaim that connection they had throughout the years. It’s embedded into the audience that perfection is once again unattainable, and while we may have favorable circumstances to achieve the most perfect life for ourselves; we often get in our own way by waiting too long.

Ramsey suffers the same unfortunate fate in both realities, and Shriver imparts the vital concept that timing is everything. When she stays with Ramsey, even at the end, she never regrets her decision due to their love for one another. With Lawrence, there’s no closure that she made the right choice. She ends with, “I think so” when questioned about her decision. These two worlds show how we not only choose our destiny, but rather how we must take advantage of opportunities as they come. Irina could have a more passionate life with Ramsey, while more frivolous, she would have been happier, but she had to kiss him when the opportunity first presented itself. Not wanting to spoil the ending, The Post-Birthday World perfectly captures the themes of an era and successfully demonstrates how every situation has downfalls. And maybe more importantly, that leaving your comfort zone will often lead to the most extraordinary life. 

Buy it Below! 

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Profiler (Fang Mu, Eastern Crimes Book 1) Book Review

Profiler (Fang Mu, Eastern Crimes Book 1) by Lei Mi

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Three young women are found dead one after another in Jiangbin City, each horribly murdered and disemboweled in her home. Police investigations reveal that the killer is a monster who likes to mix milk together with human blood - and then drink it. Is he some kind of immortal vampire, straight out of legend? A series of four rape and murder cases surface in Changhong City. All of the victims are white-collar workers between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. A graduate student at the top of his class suddenly goes mad and begins attacking his friends and fellow classmates. After a succession of seemingly unrelated homicides occurring not far from the city, the police are still completely at a loss. A television viewer called Fang Mu sends in a letter with a sketch of what he claims is the murderer's face.

The sand is slipping down the hourglass. Any doubt just how personal the case has become is erased when Fang Mu manages to piece together a message left at the crime scene by the killer. A message addressed directly to him, "You will be my last victim."

Review by Brittany:

I downloaded this book when it was on a free promotion because it was compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I loved.

The first thing to note about this book is that it is gruesome. From the very first few pages, there are graphic images described that were enough to make me wrinkle my nose in disgust. It got a little hairy, even from the beginning.

Another thing to note is that this is a translation, so some of the phrasing is a bit weird. There are times when words aren't quite right and some of the punctuation is a bit off. This doesn't detract from the story too much, but it is something to be aware of if this kind of thing bothers you.

The timeline in this book is a bit ambiguous, and it often left me feeling a bit confused on what had happened when. This does take away from the reading experience some because I felt like I couldn't quite keep up with what was happening all the time. There are also times when Fang Mu is dreaming or having near hallucinations while awake, and some of those are also difficult to keep up with. By the end of the book, the timeline was much more clear, as were the divisions between reality and imagination.

There were moments in the book where the author incorporated some personality and character development, which was interesting but often felt out of place. The rest of the book was so clinical and to the point that these scenes were out of character for the author and didn't fit with the rest of the book very much. By the end of the book, the parts that were more personal and that developed characters felt more seamless.

All of that being said, this book was really intriguing. Fang Mu works with the police to help profile serial killers, and of course he gets it right every time. His skill set is impressive and when he explains how he came up with each part of the profile, I nod my head along with him because of how logical it is.

I don't think this book is quite on par with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it was worth reading. If you are interested in crime books, you should consider picking this one up.

Notable quotes:

Actually, life really is full of happiness - it's just that I never felt myself worthy of enjoying it.

With some things, make one mistake and you can never take it back.

It was good breeding not to knock over one's tableware at dinner. But when someone else knocked over their tableware, it was even better breeding to pretend not to see.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Love of Her Life Book Review

The Love of Her Life by Harriet Evans

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In London, Kate Miller had an enviable life: an exciting job at a fashion magazine, an engagement and a wedding to plan. Then it all fell apart - spectacularly, painfully, and forever. That was three years ago...and she fled to New York City to live with her mother and stepfather.

Now Kate is a true New Yorker, in love with the pace and rhythm of Manhattan. But deep down, she knows her life is in a holding pattern, that there is something - someone - more to love. But when her father becomes ill, Kate realizes it's time to return and face the friends and the memories she left behind. What really happened before Kate left London? Can she pick up the pieces and allow herself to love life again?

Review by Brittany:

I love this book.

The book started a bit slow, with Kate making the transition to going back to London. This part of the book was a bit weird because it's before all of the truth comes out, so the reader is only getting bits and pieces and no real information about why Kate left London in the first place.

As the author fills in the gaps and the history of all of these people is revealed, it's just sad. There is so much misery, so much heartbreak, and so many secrets that it's sad to think that this whole group of people were friends.

One character that I was surprised to like was Francesca. In the beginning, she seemed a bit rough around the edges, like she was a bit of a troublemaker and I wasn't sure if I liked her much. By the end of the book, I realized that Francesca just has her own way of going about things, but that she actually has a pretty big heart. Charly was a character who rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning. When she and Kate first meet, she is catty, a gossip, and she gets around. She's a bit of a bad influence on Kate, but they still become best friends.

This book explored how tragedy and secrets can affect the relationship between girlfriends, and I really enjoyed reading about these relationships change. There were moments in the book where I laughed out loud because of the banter that the author included between the female characters.

Overall, the book is fairly predictable. The reader can easily tell what's going to happen, if not exactly how it will get there. I don't mind reading books that are predictable overall if I can get a little bit of a surprise, and this book fulfilled that. It was lovely read, sometimes frustrating and sometimes sad, but always keeping me turning pages.

Notable quotes:

It's strange, the things that are stored in your brain but that you haven't thought about for years. 

Once again, she wasn't sure what to do, how to behave.

It had been one of those event evenings that mark the beginning of a new time in one's life and thus the end of another, she realized now. 

Now that she was, she supposed, a grown-up, Kate had never really thought about what she wanted, in reality, from her life.

She was used to everything being easy for other people; going to parties, chatting to people, kissing boys, falling in love. Kate had never found it easy. 

She saw him every day, spent every night with him, he was her world, totally, and panic suddenly gripped her as she thought about making her way in the world without him. 

She just hadn't realized how easy it would be to walk away from it. To be forgotten, melt into the background.

"We're all the same, you know, it's just different versions of being the same."

Because being Charly was a great thing, of course it was, it had to be, but sometimes it must be pretty damn miserable.

Every girl spends her whole life wondering what her proposal will be like and when it doesn't feel like a proposal, like the most amazing moment of your life. It just feels like...well, two people having a bit of a casual chat.

She spent all day working on the illusion that women could have it all, when the reality was much more complicated.

As if the house of cards she - and Sean, and all her friends around her - had erected was just that: card, flimsy, impermanent.

She felt as if she were becoming invisible, as if parts of her life were becoming invisible.

The idea that people went to work, that she had her office and a desk and a view over the river, that she had a job that she went to, a life before all of this? It was mad, unbelievable, like everything else.

"All I'm saying is, you don't hate someone that much without still feeling something for them."

It hurts to love people because you expose yourself to them, and they can hurt you, so much. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Carrie Book Review

Carrie by Stephen King

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Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offered Carrie a chance to be normal and go to her senior prom. But another act - of ferocious cruelty - turned her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that her classmates would never forget.

Review by Brittany:

Because this book has been made into a film at least three times that I'm aware of, I was already familiar with the story before picking up the book. I can honestly say that the film adaptations I have seen have followed the story amazingly well.

A good move that King made when writing this book was including excerpts from the newspaper, professional journals, and biographies that were published regarding Prom Night. This added another layer to the novel by giving different characters an opportunity to share their experiences, but the formatting was interesting and didn't leave me feeling like I was drudging through exposition.

King's development of his characters was extremely well done, most notably for me in Carrie's mother. There are few scenes in the book that are described from her point of view, but each scene that she is in is powerful anyway. He made her into a scary character, but in a subtle way.

One character that I am still unsure about is Tommy. I still cannot decide if he had good intentions or not when it came to Carrie. King referred to moments when Tommy would take her hand or smile at her or tell her she was pretty, and his level of genuineness is still a gray area for me. I want to believe it, but I just don't know. I think his ambiguity is another example of why this books is such a classic.

Of course I enjoyed this book. It is a classic for a reason. I do think that it was written a bit choppier than King's more current works, but that doesn't take away from the excellence of the story. If you haven't read this one, you definitely should!

Notable quotes:

Somehow it had all led to this, even the early part, and when it was done the glue that had held them together would be thin and might dissolve, leaving them to wonder how it could have been in the first place.

She was glad they had decided to leave her alone, because she was still uncomfortable about her own motives and to examine them too deeply, lest she discover a jewel of selfishness glowing and winking at her from the black velvet of her subconscious.