Tag Archives: 52 in 2011

‘Something Borrowed’

On the recommendation of a few friends, I finally picked up Emily Giffin’s “Something Borrowed.” I was in the mood for something light that didn’t require too much thought. This book was that book. Typical of most “chick lit,” it had all the things most books in this genre include: girlfriends, boyfriends, adultery, alcohol, high-paying jobs, big-city thrills with some beach time thrown in for good measure.

something borrowedThe story is basically a tale of three relationships: Darcy & Rachel, Rachel & Dex, Dex & Darcy. Of course, there are the side characters who come in throughout the story to add various levels of distraction — for both the characters and the reader. Here’s the gist: Rachel and Darcy are lifelong best friends; Rachel meets Dex in college and introduces him to Darcy; Darcy and Dex start dating, eventually getting engaged; Rachel realized she loved Dex all along; Dex realized he loved Rachel all along; Dex and Rachel have an affair; Dex (eventually) calls off the wedding; Darcy announces her pregnancy with another man’s baby. Drama unfolds. Friendships fall apart. Up and down. Up and down.

The story was nothing groundbreaking. It was written in an easy-to-read and entertaining way. I breezed through it pretty quickly and enjoyed getting to know the characters. It kept my interest and fulfilled what I was looking for in a book: quick, easy-to-read and light. However, I am left feeling annoyed with the story, the author and all of the characters. I am also left not wanting to recommend this book.

It’s not because it was poorly written. It’s not because it was bad. It’s simply because the whole book is basically a long, drawn-out validation for being unfaithful. It’s disgusting. These people are all educated adults, but they think nothing of two people entering into a relationship that is built on cheating. And they all come up with excuse upon excuse for why Dex and Rachel’s relationship is OK. In fact, even more than OK — it’s destiny.

I firmly believe that people change, relationships change and, sometimes, happily-ever-after isn’t meant for two people as they once thought it was. But that is no reason for cheating. Adults have the responsibility to own up to their feelings and their actions and act like the grown-ups they are. Don’t take the easy way out — get out of one relationship before you start another one. “I loved him before she did” does not give Rachel the right to lie and cheat and destroy her friend. “Darcy’s is such a selfish witch” is not a reason for Dex to hop from her bed to Rachel’s. “She did it, too” does not make months of cheating acceptable.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. I don’t accept it. I don’t want to read about it.


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‘The Alchemist’

Apparently, “The Alchemist” was originally published in 1988. How did I not know this book existed before recently?

The Alchemist cover

This book follows Santiago, a young shepherd on his quest to achieve his personal legend — his destiny. He gives up everything to achieve this goal — his herd of sheep, his money, his initial plan for his life. And he puts every strength, every hope into following the path the world has set for him.

“Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.”

His journey leads him through the desert to Egypt, where his treasure lies, apparently, in the pyramids. On his way, he meets a Gypsy, a king and an alchemist who all, in their own ways, encourage, educate and advise him on his quest. He also meets the love of his life, whose mere existence tempts him into giving up his quest and settling for less than what the world intends him to have, less than his deepest desires. A daily occurrence in the lives of lovers everywhere, in my opinion. But he realizes that his love will wait for him, just as he will come back to her. For their love is a wonderful thing, a meaningful thing. But it is not the only wonderful, meaningful thing in the world. It is simply part of the world.

“… people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

Santiago encounters forces in the world seemingly working to keep him from achieving his personal legend — thieves, storms, wars. But he fights them, and he wins. Because that is what the world intended. When you are strong enough to give up what you have for the dream of what could be, the world will help you achieve it.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

I truly enjoyed this book. So many things Santiago experienced spoke to me and the challenges I’ve been experiencing lately. And, as you can tell, I love picking up quotes from books. My pen was kept busy while reading this book, as there were so many quotes that jumped off the pages, begging to be remembered. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, enjoyable read that has some meaning behind it. Paulo Coelho has many other books that I’ll be adding to my “to read” list.

Let me leave you with one last quote from the book that I think sums it up pretty nicely:

“We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written on the same hand.”

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‘The Marriage Bureau for Rich People’

After finishing the Josephine B. trilogy and “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced,” I was needing something light, quick and easy. Well, you can see that it’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review. This book definitely relied on its eye-catching cover, intriguing title and romantic premise to draw people in. I’ll admit, I was suckered into actually buying it. I mean, it’s hot pink and orange, for crying out loud!

book cover

It was definitely light — but not quick and easy. I could not get into it, but I was determined not to quit it. It was written to attract as many readers as possible and was certainly written for a different type of reader than I am. I was unable to relate to any of the characters, and I found myself bored with the storyline. Interestingly, I had the most difficult time relating to any of the women in the book — even moreso than the men. For me, it’s usually the opposite.

The story takes the reader to India where Mr. Ali, a retired man, decides to open a marriage bureau, helping well-to-do Indian families of all castes and religions arrange marriages for their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. The concept was interesting to me. As someone who holds an anthropology degree, I am fascinated by different cultures and their practices. That’s what I was hoping to get in this book. But I didn’t. This was not so much a cultural study through literature as it was a poor attempt to provide the reader with a super basic, and somewhat confusing, look at the caste system in India.

In addition to learning about Mr. Ali, the reader is introduced to his assistant, Aruna, and her family. The story follows her troubles as she struggles to find a proper match for her own marriage — while helping customers at the bureau. Due to circumstances out of her control, her family does not have enough money for a proper wedding, much less a proper dowry. So she remains unmarried. With no hope. Until that fateful day when a new client comes into the bureau with his family, seeking to find a suitable bride. Not an appropriate match for Aruna due to monetary and situational concerns, this client is put on “the list” for potential brides.

Long story short (don’t read further if you don’t want the story spoiled), Aruna and the client fall in love, overcome obstacles so they can get married and live happily ever after.

Quite cliché, quite predictable and, honestly, quite forced.


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‘I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’

Considering that I just started reading this last night before I fell asleep and finished it this morning in bed before church, it was a good — and quick — read. “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced” is the true story of young Nujood Ali. She worked with Delphine Minoui to tell the story in her voice, her words. It is written as simply as one would expect, coming from a 10-year-old.

Nujood Book Cover

Nujood lives in Yemen with her family: Her parents, siblings and her father’s second wife and their kids. She is 10. Or, at least, that’s what she’s told, as she has no birth certificate or officially recorded birth record. Her mother says she could be 8, 9 or 10, depending on where she starts counting. After a devastating situation forced the family to uproot and move from their village in the middle of the night, the family struggles for money.

In a desperate attempt to bring money to the family and get rid of an “extra mouth to feed,” Nujood’s father negotiates Nujood’s marriage to a man three times her age. The men of the two families work out a fair bride price and sign the marriage contract, thus forcing Nujood to become a wife. He was asked to promise, however, not to touch Nujood until after she reaches puberty. This promise is immediately broken. The husband repeatedly forces Nujood to perform her “marital duties” night after night, relying on beatings with a stick to make it happen — repeatedly drawing blood and leaving bruises behind.  Nujood finds no sympathy from her husband’s family.

Nujood is obviously lost. Why was this happening to her? Why would her father, essentially, sell her into sexual slavery? What did all of this mean? At just 10 years old, she’s too young to even know what’s happening to her for the most part — as is evidenced by her choice of words as she describes the ordeal.

My life was taking a new turn in this world of grown-ups, where dreams no longer had a place, faces became masks and no one seemed to care about me. ~Nujood Ali

Nujood knows she must escape. But how? She’s just a girl in a world run by men. Everything is pushing against her — even grown women have no voices here. How could she possibly seek, and receive, a divorce? She devises a plan and is able to escape to a courthouse, where she encounters two supportive, friendly male judges who are appalled at Nujood’s story. They help her find a safe place to stay, as the last thing she can do is return to her father’s home, as she has “destroyed his honor.” They also find her an attorney who fights vigorously to save her. Through it all, Nujood is brave and strong on the outside — continually telling her horrific story and standing up for herself. But, on the inside? On the inside, she is a scared 10-year-old girl.

A part of me feels incredibly strong, but I have no control over the rest of me, which would give anything, right at this moment, to be a tiny mouse. Arms crossed, I try to hold on. ~Nujood Ali

Eventually, Nujood is granted her divorce and is able to return home, her family basically choosing to ignore that the marriage (rape) ever happened so they could move on from it. Nujood returns to school and the life of a normal girl — a normal girl on the world’s stage. She was even named one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year, alongside Hillary Clinton, Nicole Kidman and Condoleezza Rice. Her ordeal slowly brought about change in Yemen and other parts of the Middle East — slowly.

She remains, however, a girl forever changed.

“Compared to dreams, reality can be truly cruel. But it can also come up with beautiful surprises.” ~Nujood Ali

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‘The Last Great Dance on Earth’

Oh, Josephine, where will I be without you? I have so enjoyed this trilogy. All three books were well written — I honestly felt as if I were part of the story. But “The Last Great Dance on Earth” was my favorite of the three.

In which I read the book

I was entranced in from the second Napoleon woke Josephine from her sleep with, “Josephine … come see the moon.” This first line of the book really showcases the deep love these two shared. It’s a love that several wars, infertility and infidelity couldn’t even break. Heck, it was a love that even divorce couldn’t extinguish.

This book takes us through the years of Napoleon’s rise (and fall) as leader of France — and conqueror of much of Europe. It takes us through the coronation of the couple as Emperor and Empress of France, a role Josephine despises. She longs for the simpler days, the days of solitude. She longs for the early days of her marriage to Napoleon without the pressures and rules of being the highest ruler in the land.

Josephine’s diary entries reveal her deep pain and devastation as Bonaparte takes on lover after lover — a fact she is forced to embrace in order to save her marriage, her love. She even comes to view the allowance of this infidelity as her gift to Bonaparte, as she is unable to produce an heir for him.

We also read about her joys as her children grow up and get married, bringing Napoleon and herself grandchildren. And we continue to learn about her frustrations as the Bonaparte clan takes every effort possible to break apart her marriage to Napoleon — even as far as potentially impregnating a young girl so it would appear Napoleon had a child. He did end up having a child with one of his mistresses — just not as his family had arranged.

As war continues to ravage the country, we watch as Napoleon and Josephine are forced to consider divorce as a means to reunite the country and ensure Napoleon is able to remarry and produce an heir. Josephine’s heartbreaking account of this situation left me in tears on more than one occasion. I could feel her heart breaking. What’s more, I could feel Napoleon’s heart breaking. And if there’s one thing that gets me every time, it’s the mere reference of a man crying.

If I had to pick one word to sum up this book, it would be “sacrifice.” Essentially everyone in this book had to make a sacrifice of some sort for the cause at hand — some sacrifices bigger than others, some more devastating. It made me wonder if I’d be able to make those kinds of grand sacrifices for the greater good. Love is an interesting thing — and sometimes letting someone go is the biggest act of love there is.


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‘Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe’

Book two in the Josephine B. trilogy did not disappoint. Like the first book — “The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.” — “Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe” is Josephine (née Rose) Bonaparte’s story, written by Josephine in her own journals and letters. Also like the first book, this one was hard to put down. I actually started it on a plane ride to Houston and finished it on the ride back. It took probably a total of about four hours to finish this book.

Book cover image

In this book we get to learn even more about Josephine’s difficulties in life, particularly those struggles as a wife and mother. This book picks up just where the first ended: the day following her marriage to Bonaparte. It covers the families’ reactions to the marriage. Those reactions? Not so great. On either side. Napoleon’s very large family disapproves of the marriage and does all in its power to come between the two. And Josephine’s children, her daughter particularly, do not take well to their new papa at first. Her son, while impressed and awed by General Bonaparte as his new father, struggles to reconcile his feelings with those for his own dead father.

This book makes clear Napoleon’s undying affection for Josephine, as well as Josephine’s inability to understand and embrace this love. In fact, it takes her most of the book — several years — to even be able to tell her husband “I love you.” It’s an interesting relationship for the reader to follow, as we get to experience Napoleon’s love and affection through Josephine’s eyes while she wrestles with her guilt for not loving him enough. This guilt comes into play as Napoleon goes off to war and gets injured. Perhaps it was, after all, her fault for not loving him enough. And what would happen if she never got to express her true affection for him? On a side note, however, the author paints a very clear picture of the sexual relationship between Napoleon and Josephine — one full of experimentation, exploration and adoration. And one unlike anything Josephine had ever experienced before. Unfortunately, this sexual relationship (no matter how satisfying — and it is) fails to result in any children for Bonaparte and Josephine.

What I liked most about this book? We get to watch Josephine’s strength as a woman grow. We watch her take control of her own life just as her husband takes control of France. How does a woman own her future when her husband is the most powerful man in the country? And how does she maintain her independence while by being one-half of the royal couple? It’s an intriguing journey to experience through Josephine’s eyes. I’m very much looking forward to the next, and final, book in the trilogy, “The Last Great Dance on Earth.”

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‘Still Alice’

What can I say? I breezed through this book in two short days.

Still Alice cover shot

I could barely put this book down.

“Still Alice” is heart-warming at the same time it is heart-breaking. It follows the story of Alice, a Harvard professor of cognitive psychology and linguistics, as she copes with her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It also reflects on Alice’s relationships with the people in her life: She and her husband have three grown children — two daughters and a son.

Barely 50 years old, Alice struggles to come to terms with not only being told what is causing her lapses in memory (including the day she went out for a run and got lost two blocks from her home) but also with knowing exactly what is coming down the line. As a cognitive psychologist and studied linguist, Alice knows all too well the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease — including the particularly rapid decline and death of those who have the early-onset form.

She also deals with the knowledge that her children have a 50 percent chance of having early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease themselves — a fact that leads two of them to get genetic testing to see if they will, in fact, develop the disease. In her “Alzheimer’s moments” it’s easy to experience, through her eyes, the confusion and frustration she feels as she struggles to follow along in books and fails to keep up her end of a phone conversation. The moment she gets lost in her home on the way to the bathroom and ends up wetting her pants was one of the most poignant, heart-wrenching scenes in the book — leaving me in tears right alongside Alice.

And Alice’s more lucid moments lead to some very thought-provoking ideas and images. “I’m losing my yesterdays,” she thinks to herself. “And I have no control over which yesterdays I keep and which ones get deleted.”

When she discusses with her daughter the effects of Alzheimer’s and tries to prepare her for the day she doesn’t recognize her, her daughter says, “You might not know me, but you will know I love you.” Alice reminds her that, no matter what, she will love her, too. But, she secretly wonders if that’s true: “Do I love her with my head? Or, do I love her with my heart?”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the story was seeing, through Alice’s point of view, the ways her various family members responded to her disease. Her children ranged from wanting to “force” her to use her own memory, without the help of her trusted BlackBerry to keep track of dates and reminders, to wanting to provide everything for her that she couldn’t regularly be trusted to provide for herself. And my heart ached as I saw Alice’s husband, John, pull away from her. Because it hurt him so to watch her suffer — and to admit to himself that his beloved wife had the disease — he stayed away when she took her medicine and lost his sense of humor when, at certain times, the only thing you can do is laugh. How else do you respond when you get your underwear stuck on your head because you think it’s your bra?

A final note, while the book is written from Alice’s perspective, it’s written in third person. At first, I found this odd. How much more could we have experienced through Alice’s eyes if we’d heard it from her voice? But then I realized that perhaps the author was trying to showcase Alice’s feeling of separation of self. Perhaps we were getting to see the way Alice was unable to recognize (or, even, reconcile) the “self” she was after Alzheimer’s Disease crept in with the “self” she was before. Third person allowed us to look at Alice’s life from the outside, just as she was experiencing it as her memories faded and Alzheimer’s took control of her brain.

I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean today doesn’t matter. ~Alice Howland

Don’t forget: I’ll be keeping a running log of the books I’ve read and the ones up next on my list, as well as a rating of each book. Check out my list here. And if you have any suggested reading for me, I’d love to hear ‘em — just leave me a comment here or on my 52 Books in 2011 page.

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