CBR-V Review #10: Quiet by Susan Cain

Why I Read It: Because I’m a classic introvert and this book was getting tons of buzz.

My Rating: 5 stars

Summary: This is basically a study of introverts–who they are, what they act like, what makes them tick–and how they fit into an extrovert-dominated world. Cain focuses on the strengths and hidden talents of introverts and makes a case for why introverts are just as (if not more) important to our society than extroverts.

My Review: It felt so good to read a book that felt like it was written specifically for me. Every single page had some tidbit of information or perfectly-stated insight that validated me and inspired me to embrace my introversion, and to see the value that I and others like me can bring to society. She focuses on different aspects of life–romantic relationships, the workplace, childhood–and considers how introverts can best navigate them.

Cain does a great job of exploring how and why our society places so much emphasis on extroversion, and why introverts are seen as second-class citizens in many ways. She uses a lot of really great real-world stories, and does a lot of first-hand exploration in places such as a gathering for “sensitive” people and a seminar to improve your confidence. These are weaved into Cain’s excellent synthesis of psychological research and neurological studies that show the biological basis for introversion. It’s similar to a Malcolm Gladwell book in that it’s science-based nonfiction that’s just as readable as fiction–Cain’s a great writer, and her prose is engaging and entertaining.

I think even extroverts would enjoy this book, even though it’s clearly targeted at introverts. I know I’m pushing it on my extroverted boyfriend, simply because I think it’ll give him some insight into why I am the way I am (and I think it also can teach extroverts a bit about themselves).

Should I Read It? Yes! If you like Gladwell-esque books, have an interest in psychology, are an introvert or just want to know more about them, you should definitely pick this up.

CBR-V Review #9: The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

Why I Read It: I actually listened to it on tape. I wanted something entertaining for a long car ride and I read this forever ago (when I was maybe nine) and remembered liking it. The library didn’t have the audiobook I was looking for so I picked this one.

My Review: 2 stars

Summary: Siddalee Walker is a successful playwright living the dream in New York City. Her latest play was a hit, she has a hot and caring fiance, and life couldn’t be better. When she accidentally reveals some dirty family secrets to a NY Times reporter and her mother, Vivian, stops speaking to her, she falls apart. She heads to the Washington State wilderness to figure out her life, armed with a scrapbook that contains the story of her mother and her mother’s three best friends since childhood–the Ya-Yas. The story alternates between present-day Sidda, present-day Vivi, and the history of the Ya-Yas.

My Review: I hated this book. I thought the plot was boring, every single one of the characters made me want to punch them in the face, and it wasn’t funny or entertaining in any way. I can’t believe I liked this book so much (okay, I was nine, I didn’t know much back then), and I can’t believe how popular this book was/is.

I love books and movies about female friendship. It’s always been a weird dream of mine to have a group of three (it’s always three!) other women to be best friends with–the kind of best friends that you share everything with, from clothes to your deepest secrets. I wanted to love this book because that’s what it boils down to: love between women. I remember liking the book so much initially because I wanted that type of friendship so much.

But damn, this book does NOT hold up. I thought that the Ya-Yas were obnoxious and self-centered and I didn’t think it was amusing that they basically did whatever they wanted, treated other people like crap, and faced zero consequences. Of course everyone loved them! They were quirky and outspoken and didn’t care what other people thought! Ugh. Excuse me while I vomit. It’s a great message, in theory, but the four women were just so grating and Rebecca Wells clearly was so in love with herself/her characters that it made me want to scream.

Don’t get me started on Sidda, either. She is a total non-entity of a character. She’s whiny, boring, and I literally wanted to fall asleep during her sections. There was not a single thing I liked about her. Her sections made me want to hurry up and get back to the Ya-Ya sections, which should tell you something, because I hated the Ya-Ya sections, too.

There’s also really no plot–and what little there is is rote, predictable, and not interesting. You basically know from page 1 how it’s going to end. The whole thing is just an excuse to intersperse stories of the Ya-Yas and their antics and fawn over these horrendously self-absorbed women.

It pisses me off that, based on my searching around review sites, this book is touted as some feminist classic, like it gives some great insight into the female psyche. Nope. No way. This is coming from someone who has read a LOT of chick lit, too. While it’s not as bad as some of the truly brain-dead books out there where all the characters care about are their designer shoes and sexy hookups, it’s still pretty terrible.

Should you read it? NO.

CBR-V Review #8: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Why I Read It: Because I read one of Libba Bray’s YA books (Beauty Queens) a year or so ago and enjoyed it.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

Summary: Gemma Doyle is a smart and snarky girl living in Victorian-era India. She loves it there, but when tragedy strikes, she is sent to boarding school in England. It is there that she begins to discover her secret powers, which complicate things. Not only must she uncover the truth about her beloved mother, but she must also learn to control these powers (and the evil that accompanies them) while dealing with school and the two popular bitchy girls that are determined to make her life miserable.

My Review: I wanted to love this book, and maybe if I’d read it when I was younger, I would have. As it was, though, there were too many problems for me to truly enjoy it.

There were some good aspects–I think Gemma is a great heroine, and is funny and smart and entertaining. I liked her a lot, and appreciated (as I usually do with Bray’s books) that young girls reading this would have a strong female protagonist to look up to. I love all things Victorian, and I also love stories about boarding schools (I read a LOT of British fiction set in boarding schools when I was little and the love has sort of stuck with me), so I thought the setting had a ton of potential. I was less excited about the magic aspects of the story, but Bray made those sections genuinely scary and pretty intriguing.

Despite all this, it never really came together. First of all, I couldn’t deal with the anachronisms. I realize that your typical teenage girl wouldn’t notice those things (although I think I would have at that age), but it was SO distracting and really bothered me. For example: upper-class fifteen-year-old Victorian girls talking about sex? Nope, sorry, not buying it.  Gemma’s very modern and snarky inner dialogue? Maybe some girls like that existed, but I doubt it. I read somewhere that Bray did this on purpose, to make it feel more relatable, but it kept taking me out of the narrative and played a big role in why I disliked the book so much. 

I also don’t think Bray really knew where she was going and so it all felt very slapped-together. I’ve read lots of books that successfully marry a school-related plot with a supernatural one (hello, Harry Potter, but also The Magicians by Lev Grossman and anything by Diana Wynne Jones) but this one felt really imbalanced. Those sorts of books work best when the magic underlies everything else that happens; in this book, the parts involving Gemma’s powers felt separate from the rest of the plot. It was almost like Bray didn’t know how to bring the two together–either she could write a book about Victorian teenage girl drama at boarding school (which I would have read) or she could write one about a girl discovering/dealing with magic powers. 

Should You Read It? I wouldn’t, unless you want to spend the entire time reading it wanting to throw the book across the room.

CBR-V Review #7: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Why I Read It: Because I was basically the last person in the world to do so, and it had killer reviews.

My Rating: 4 stars

Summary: You can’t really summarize this book. It’s essentially a series of loosely-connected short stories with some of the same recurring characters at different points in their lives, dealing with the chaos and pain of life in contemporary America.

My Review: Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is indisputably unique and in many ways incredibly brilliant; I have a feeling that this book will be used in literary theory classes in the future. It’s almost post-modern and definitely post-structuralist, which is normally a recipe for disaster for me. I usually can’t stand this type of book, and on paper, I think this is one that I would hate. It’s disjointed, there’s no cohesive resolution, Egan plays around with form and structure in weird ways, and it’s all about the hopelessness and emptiness of our world today. But it really worked for me, and I ended up liking it a lot.

I think my biggest problem with the book is that it’s so uneven. Some of the stories were truly powerful and jarring and I felt like I was responding to them in the ways that Egan wanted me to. But others really fell flat and either didn’t make much sense or just felt kind of pointless. I really appreciated what Egan was trying to do with structure and form throughout, though, and so on a English-major-literary-nerd level it was interesting to watch it unfold. I was especially moved by the infamous PowerPoint story (yes, she tells an entire story via PowerPoint), which I was surprised by, because I’d been dreading it.

I didn’t really notice the flaws of the book while I was reading it–I couldn’t put it down. I’d actually expected it to be difficult to read but I ended up finishing it in one whole afternoon. When I’d had time to digest it, though, I realized that I had some problems with it. One of my friends on Goodreads wrote a review of it saying that they’d wished they’d read it before they read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and I totally agree. I was mentally comparing the two books while I was reading, and I think Franzen was overall more successful. His book certainly stuck with me more–it was one of the best books I’ve ever read and it’s one of the rare books I can simply think back to and still feel emotionally affected (I originally compared reading it to a punch in the gut–it takes a lot out of you, and that feeling has stuck with me).

Should You Read It? Absolutely. Despite it’s issues with unevenness, it’s one of the most creative and innovative works of fiction I’ve ever read, and I think it’s opened some doors and will be a stepping-stone for Egan and a lot of other authors to do some really cool and intriguing things with fiction in years to come.

CBR-V Review #6: Big Boned by Meg Cabot

Why I Read It: Meg Cabot is just generally awesome–The Princess Diaries is on my top ten list of all-time favorite YA books, and I think she’s cool and funny and smart (and also one time she responded to a letter I wrote to her when I was eleven). Her books are some of my favorite “comfort reads” and I always look for them at the library when I want something easy and fun to read.

My Rating: 2 stars

Summary: Heather Wells (also the heroine of Size 12 is Not Fat, which I liked a lot more) works in the residence life office of a dorm at a large university in New York City. Things are going pretty well for her–she’s got an attractive professor boyfriend (although she still has feelings for her roommate, Cooper), she likes her job, and she’s finally getting into the swing of “normal” life, away from her pop-star past. Her stable world is shaken, however, when yet another murder occurs in the residence hall in which she works–and this time, her boss  is the victim. Once again, it’s up to Heather to save the day, while also navigating the complexities of her love life.

My Review: I was really bored by this book. Cabot’s books are always fluffy, for lack of a better word, but that’s what I’m looking for when I pick them: something easy, funny, and mindless. This book definitely fit the bill, but it felt pretty watered-down and a little tedious. This book was just very been-there, done-that, like Cabot wrote this in her sleep. The mystery was boring, Heather’s sassiness felt kind of forced, and it wasn’t nearly as funny as I know Cabot is capable of being. I obviously wasn’t expecting high literature here, but it wasn’t even that much fun to read. Bummer, because like I said, I love Cabot, and her books are some of my all-time favorite chick-lit reads. Oh well–better luck next time!

Should You Read It? Skip it, and go read some of her other books instead (you can’t go wrong with The Princess Diaries).