Guess who’s coming to dinner?

I always appreciate a book that takes me out of my comfort zone but still manages to draw me into to the story. Usually for a book to do that, it has to be well written with intriguing characters and a compelling plot (just like all books really). But it also has to contain subject matter that challenges me in some way; a topic that I’m not familiar with, subject matter that is borderline taboo, a writing style that is outside the norm (2nd person narrative for example), or based on real events. So, when I read 50 Shades of Grey- unfamiliar and taboo subject matter, yes. Well written and compelling, not so much! But A Game of Thrones,(the dark, fantasy, murder  and malice) not my usual cup of tea, and still I enjoyed it enough to read the 2 that came after it. That said, there is something about a book with a controversial plot that could potentially be real that makes it slightly more uncomfortable, as it starts you questioning the darker side of human nature…

Book #21 The Dinner, Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett, narrated by Clive Mantle

the dinner Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: This will surely be a dreadful evening- a restaurant where it’s impossible to get a reservation unless they know you, pretentious food in tiny portions presented by the server (as if you can’t figure out what’s on your plate), and worst of all, Serge. Serge, the up-and-coming politician who requested this dinner so they could all discuss their children. Paul is dreading every minute. Mostly because he can’t stand the way his brother must make a show of everything, but also because he wants to avoid this conversation. Paul, his wife Clare and their son, Michel, have a happy little life; why can’t they keep it that way? Serge, his wife Babette and their 3 children are in the public eye as Serge prepares to run for Prime Minister of Holland. Their oldest son, Rick, is the same age as Michel, and they are the children that must be discussed. After sitting through several insufferable courses, they get down to business.  Only it’s really a matter of who-knows-what and how much of their hand they are willing to show. Everyone seems to think they know best, or have the kids best interests in mind. What will these parents do to protect their children and who is willing to go a little too far?

My Impressions: It’s hard to root for the bad guy, but it can be easy to sympathize with him after he’s told you all of the “bad” things that the good guy has done. It’s a bit more than sibling rivalry that keeps Paul and Serge from being friendly, but because of the point of view narration, it’s really hard to pick a side. In fact, it is this point of view narration that has you questioning right and wrong throughout the book. Obviously there are some very real, very extreme wrongs, but the line is a little fuzzy for some situations. This is a very hot debate through most of the book, and by the end you’re still not really sure if you’re on the side of right in the end. This book explores some interesting moral themes that may cause you to question your own position on some sociopolitical issues.

The book was well written and the mix of present events and flashbacks added intrigue to the story and helped propel the plot to its conclusion. The characters are really quite fascinating as their natures are revealed. And the overall subject matter is truly different than anything I’ve ever encountered in books or film. Actually you could make a case for a very interesting and rather dark movie to made based on this book.

Why you should read it: I did find this book easy to listen to. I’m a bit of a sucker for a British narrator. But it was really the unusual approach to the story and the taboo subject matter that kept my interest. I would definitely recommend this for book club lists and potentially for a literature study.

Read if you liked: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Book #21 in the bag

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” ― Abraham Lincoln

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…I got all my sisters with me!

Growing up with sisters is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have a built-in best bud when you need it; no one else will understand just how quirky your parents are, she is the only one who will ever know all your stories from back in the day and you’ll never find a better partner in crime when you are trying to get away with something! On the other hand, you also have an attachment to the biggest pain in the butt you’ll ever know; I mean, she knows ALL your stories, and she could rat you out for sooooo much stuff if she wanted to, and half your clothes are probably renting space in her closet at any give time! And even though you are two very separate people, you’ll always be compared to each other, good bad or otherwise. No one else can make you laugh ’til you cry with a decades-old inside joke. And no one else has ever tickled you ’til you peed your pants! She’s the only one who can appreciate how it felt when you finally got old enough to stop wear matching clothing in formal portraits, and she knows it’s a term of endearment when you ask “Why was I cursed with such idiot sisters?!?” (Okay, maybe only my sister gets that one. Every year. Around Halloween?).

Book #20 Twisted Sisters, Jen Lancaster

sistersRating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: Working on a cable reality series is a dream for Reagan Bishop. She is a psychologist on the show I Need a Push, where people who need to kick-start their lives in a new direction get therapy and a makeover to help them take the first steps. She is very interested in human behaviors and showing people that the choices they make can have real consequences in their day-to-day dealings. She is careful with all of her choices including her strictly organic diet, and hold herself (and others) to a very high standard. She is the middle child of three girls and she simply cannot relate to her older sister, who dropped out of school and has a brood of unruly kids. And she cannot understand why her younger sister, Geri, would still live with their parents, except that she is only a hairdresser and that’s probably as good as it gets for her. Reagan is living the high life, (even if her parents don’t give her the recognition she deserves) until her boss announces that their show is moving to a network. Suddenly everything she stands for is being challenged in the name of budgets and ratings and she must conform or lose her job and all that she has worked so hard for. With the help of her co-worker Deva, she comes up with a plan to get the job done, but her journey into New Age methods takes her down a twisted path of self discovery and sibling rivalry!

My Impressions: I have read a lot from this author. I think this is her 10th book, and her third work of fiction. But as with her other two fiction novels, I struggle a little bit to remember that this is not one of her memoirs, because her characters tend to have her voice. Of course they have what ever voice she gives them, but her way of writing fiction is too similar to her style for memoirs and blogging (follow here http://www.jennsylvania.com/) and it’s hard to connect with the characters as ‘not Jen’.  This character was even hard to connect with because she is so easy to hate! I’m sure that is the intention; to see her as pretentious and self-important and blind to her ways, so that when she reaches this epiphany for herself, you can sympathize and like who she becomes. But eww! It’s hard to read a whole book of that.

The theme of sibling rivalry is interesting here. Mostly because it seems very one-sided. Like Reagan is creating the rivalry in her head, it doesn’t actually exist in the real world. There were a few examples of the other sisters creating drama, but they were relatively minor compared to the hype on Reagan’s end. If the other sisters were somehow more involved in either the immature behavior or giving her a taste of her own medicine, it may have been a more interesting plot point.

This is the second appearance from the character of Deva in Jen’s books. It’s hard for me to imagine her physical traits, so in my head she is the female version of the guy from Napoleon Dynamite but when he was in Just Like Heaven. I actually think this character is most developed and most interesting because she is actually believable. Even though everything she does in the book is totally unbelievable. But as a character she really sells it to you, and while far out there, away from any real point of the story, you can get into this bit of fantasy-fiction. It’s a little Teen Witch-y but at least Deva is consistent. And consistently ‘not Jen.’

Why you should read it: While a little underdeveloped and maybe predictable, this is still a really entertaining book. No doubt Jen Lancaster is funny! And I think her goal is to entertain you with a story, which is accomplished here. There are laugh-out-loud moments and things that every woman, sister and Whole Foods shopper can relate to!

Read if you liked: Here I Go Again, Freaky Friday, The Fame Game

Book #20 in the Bag!

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” ― Orhan Pamuk, The New Life

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