Publisher: Doubleday, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Literary Where I Got It: Borrowed it from the library and read it on my Kindle!
Why I Read It: I was sick of hearing how great it was
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: This book has been reviewed on just about every book blog I’ve seen so I’m not sure I even have to tell you that much about it. However, just in case you aren’t familiar with the basics, here they are: A magical circus appears out of blue, only at night. Its colors are always black, white and red. The circus is created and maintained by two magicians, who are in competition with each other. The competition is vague in its goals and ending, even to the two magicians.
My Thoughts: OK … that description sounded a bit flat, but the book itself is not. The main character is really the circus itself, which Morgenstern describes in exquisite and wondrous detail. I love how she described the circus using the second person: “You walk through the gates. You see the acrobat.” When reading these sections, I felt like I really was walking in the circus and seeing these amazing and mysterious creations. It makes sense that the circus is called the Cirque de Reves (The Circus of Dreams) because it feels like a dream. You know how you have amazingly weird dreams but you can’t quite describe them? Morgenstern has somehow figured out how to put the language of dreams onto paper and share it with others. Although I wasn’t as rapturous about this book as many others (I’ll admit that I almost wanted to dislike it out of a weird sense of contrariness), I have to admit that it captured me in its spell. It really was a magical and otherworldly read that lets you escape into another person’s fully realized imagination in the best possible way. If they ever make a movie of this (and it cries out to be made into one), they’ve got quite a challenge, and it would be a shoo-in for Best Oscar in Art Direction if they get it right.
Chosen by Chandra Hoffman
Publisher: Harper, 2010
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Where I Got It: Bought it for my Kindle
Why I Read It: I had seen reviews and the premise of the book intrigued me My Rating: 3 stars
Brief Description: Chloe Pinter works for the domestic program for the Chosen Child adoption center. Her job? Convincing pregnant women to give their child up for adoption and then facilitating the process from beginning to end. A challenging job filled with heartbreak, uncertainty and elements of danger, things become especially complicated when a couple who gave their baby up for adoption begin to have second thoughts and take matters into their own hands.
My Thoughts: The main reason I read this book was to learn more about the process of adoption. I’ve not read many books that dealt with adoption, and I imagine it is a difficult process. The strength of this book is that Hoffman (who worked in Romanian orphanages and as a director of a U.S. adoption program) knows this world inside and out. (FYI: The book is set in Portland, Oregon, which allows for open adoption, which means the birth parents get to pick the adopted parents and keep in touch if they want.) We get to see things from all different angles: the adoption center worker tasked with ensuring that adoptions go through; the couple considering giving up their baby; the couples who want to receive a baby of their own. It is gut-wrenching stuff—filled with emotions ranging from selflessness to desperation to greed and almost every emotion in between. Hoffman uses the plot to look at two basic questions: What if the parents who gave a baby up for adoption changed their mind afterward? What if a couple desperate for a baby for years finally got what they wanted … and found it wasn’t as amazing imagined? These are two interesting questions, and I think Hoffman does a good job of exploring all the different angles associated with adoption. The plot gets a little wonky and unbelievable at times, but the details felt true and I was willing to overlook the plotting issues to learn more about the world of adoption.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Vintage, 2000
Genre: Fiction, Literary
Where I Got It: Bought it
Why I Read It: I wanted to experience Murakami’s fiction
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: At the start of the book, we meet Toru the businessman on an airplane. As he is getting ready to deplane, he hears the Beatle’s song, Norwegian Wood, and it transports him back to the past—to the late 1960s when Toru was a quiet and serious college student who kept mostly to himself. However, a chance encounter with a girl from his hometown, Naoko, leads to a strange and unclassifiable relationship. The two are bound together by the suicide of a mutual friend years before, whose death continues to haunt their lives. Although Toru is doing his best to adapt and fit in with the world, Naoko struggles and eventually seeks help at an asylum. Toru, who finds himself bound to Naoko in ways he doesn’t fully understand, is confused when he also finds himself drawn to a sexually liberated and outspoken fellow student, Midori. As Toru attempts to balance his commitment to Naoko and his attraction to Midori, he finds that he can only be free when (as the song says) “This bird has flown.”
My Thoughts: OK … I’ll be upfront about why this book didn’t work for me as much as it could have or I wanted it to. The main problem is that I was super-excited to try one of Murakami’s fiction books and was prepared and pumped up for weirdness and alternate universes and talking animals and, unknowingly, managed to pick the one fairly straightforward book that Murakami wrote. (I only found this out afterwards. If only I’d read the blurb that said this book was “a complete stylistic departure” from his mysterious and surreal novels!) So, I was hoping for surrealism and found, instead, realism. Not to say this was a bad book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for. (Apparently, I should have chosen The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles or A Wild Sheep Chase instead.) The writing is graceful and fluid, and the story was accessible. Although tinged with melancholy and surprisingly graphic sex scenes/talk, Norwegian Wood ended up being a memorable and haunting coming of age story. It also evokes the strangeness and melancholy of the titular song.
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