Ten Books that Have Made Me Sob

I just started two amazing books (Birdsong and Young Men and Fire) so I figure I will not be able to post a review for a while. So I came up with a new book list to keep you dutiful readers entertained while I take my time with Birdsong and Young Men and Fire! I actually came up with this book list idea while reading Young Men and Fire when I discovered 20 pages into the book that I was already tearing up, so here we go…(warning: spoilers ahead)

Ten Books that Have Made Me Sob*

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams – I have read this book at least three times now and each time it has made me cry like a baby at the end. This young adult book tells the story of a group of rabbits who escape their warren’s destruction and go on an adventure across the heaths of England. It is a truly rare book that gets me once I know the ending. The rest of the books on this list cannot make me repeat a cry session, but this one gets. me. every. time.
  2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – You can ask M about this one. I warned her before I went downstairs to finish this book because I knew from page 5 that this book was going to be devastating. Set in the Holocaust, this book tells the story of Liesel and the Jewish man who Liesel’s adoptive family hides in their basement. If you thought this book was going to end well, you were wrong. And I was right. M could hear me sobbing through the walls, so that’s why The Book Thief is number 2.
  3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Unlike the Book Thief, I did not see this ending coming. I honestly thought/hoped this would be a feel-good love story in the end. I was wrong. Way wrong. All the Light We Cannot See is another war novel that takes place in Europe in World War II. Marie-Laure grows up with her father in Paris while Werner grows up as an orphan in Germany. The two are set on a crash course in the beginning of the novel when Werner learns to work radios and Marie-Laure learns to navigate the streets of Paris while blind.
  4. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – This National Book Award winner had me crying numerous times throughout, but the ending was really gut-wrenching. Esch and her family live in an incredibly poor area of the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Katrina is closing in. While no one dies, the betrayal in the end of the book is pretty sad. This book also reads pretty realistic as far as I was concerned, and thus was more upsetting.
  5. H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald – if you read my review of this book, you would know how much I loved it. Not only did I cry while I read the book, I also teared up when I saw Helen MacDonald talk at the local library, so that’s embarrassing. While the sad part of this book was at the beginning, the entire book surrounds Helen’s experience recovering from her father’s sudden death and is quite personal emotional.
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling – this one is obvious to me. After reading all seven books, there was no way the ending wasn’t going to make me cry. I will say that when I reread the books years later (last year), I thought I was going to cry again and I didn’t. I am not going to summarize this book because if you haven’t read it you don’t deserve to get it summarized neatly.
  7. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri This book was so influential that I will forever remember the pivotal scene (which happens to be the one that made me cry). The novel tells the story of two brothers who are inseparable as children and grow up to be two very different people. Udayan becomes part of a dangerous movement in India: a group of rebels who are working towards equality for all. Subhash seeks a greater education in America. When Subhash learns of his brother’s death, he returns to the Lowlands of India to help his family recover.
  8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – Pi is a young Tamil boy who survives a shipwreck. The majority of the book takes place on a lifeboat, where Pi is stranded in the Pacific Ocean for 200 days with a Bengal Tiger. This book’s ending was so unexpected and shocking that I didn’t cry until my mother told me exactly what had happened. Then I cried.
  9. The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks – Julie Barenson’s husband is already dead in the first scene of this book. He leaves her a Great Dane puppy, Singer. Four years pass and Julie is dating two men. One of them ends up being a stalker and a total nut job. If you haven’t noticed from the strong animal theme of this list, animal deaths really get me. So when in the very end Singer dies while saving Julie from her stalker, I lost it. Nick shouldn’t have done that.
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – This book was so sad, even though I knew it was going to be sad from the beginning. I would have to say as far as straight storylines go, this has to be the most depressing. Mariam and Laila are a generation apart and living as the two wives of Rasheed in Kabul. While originally enemies, the two women learn to love each other under the abuse inflicted on both of them by their husband.

*Disclaimer: I am empathetic and anything can make me cry if I am in the right mood.

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The One and Only

The One and Only by Emily Giffin; 2014

I would like nothing more than to never think about or see this book ever again.

Emily Giffin’s books usually infuriate me, but I guess I appreciate her creating characters that deal with real moral dilemmas and mostly true-to-life problems and choices. And it’s an entertaining kind of infuriating – like, I would NEVER try to steal my best friend’s fiance, but it’s sort of fun to read about this girl doing it. Obviously there is something that keeps me reading her books. HOWEVER, The One and Only really pushed the envelope for me.

It’s difficult for me to write an honest review of this book without including some spoilers, so please be warned and GO NO FURTHER if you have an interest in reading this book spoiler-free.

The short of it is: Shea Rigsby is in her early thirties and is at a bit of a standstill. She’s lived in Walker, Texas her entire life, has had the same job in the Walker athletic department since she graduated from college (from Walker University, of course), and lives and dies by Walker football. #Walker. Her parents divorced when she was a kid and she was practically raised by her best friend, Lucy’s, family, the Carr’s; Lucy’s father is the revered coach of the Walker football team. Lucy’s mother, Connie, passes away from cancer on the first page, and her death propels Shea to reassess her life. She dumps her loser boyfriend, starts dating a star NFL quarterback, and gets a new job as a reporter on the Walker beat. All sounds good, right? Girlfriend really knows how to reassess her life.

WELL THEN SHEA DECIDES SHE’S IN LOVE WITH COACH CARR.

I think that Giffin asking her readers to get behind a girl falling for a man who is not only 20 years her senior BUT ALSO her best friend’s father AND ALSO a man who acted as a father figure to her for her entire life AND ALSO who is a recent widower who was madly in love with his past wife is asking WAY TOO MUCH. The age difference didn’t bother me so much as we’re really rubbing shoulders with incest, here. It’s unclear to me as a reader how Coach Carr went from being a father figure to suddenly being a “hot” older man. And, on the flip side, how did Shea go from being a second daughter to Coach Carr to being the woman he loved? CREEPY, to say the least – am I right? The fact that their physical intimacy never went farther from kissing (minus one moment where perhaps more was alluded to) also suggests to me that Giffin knew that the relationship would be too uncomfortable for her readers. So why go there at all? And when Shea accuses Lucy of being selfish when she tells Shea that dating her father would be a deal breaker for their friendship? Don’t get me started. At least she’s being honest, unlike our protagonist. Not to mention – totally reasonable request.

But, worse than all of that, the novel was flippant AT BEST in its handling of the serious problem of violence against women and the NFL. COMPLETELY, COMPLETELY outrageous. 1) That a woman could be a victim of domestic violence and then decide that a past victim of the same perpetrator was probably lying about rape and 2) to suggest that “looking the other way” when it comes to rape for the sake of a football team is okay, is, quite frankly, nauseating. The handling of this issue – and lack thereof – was so disturbing that it made my skin crawl WAY more than the weird fatherly-daughterly love interest.

Other major misfires:

  • The One and Only felt WAY too similar to Friday Night Lights for me to really accept this as an original idea;
  • I won’t even get into the overkill of the comparison between religion and football;
  • coach calls Shea “girl” practically the entire book, which just made everything worse
  • the NCAA investigation that drives the middle of the book has absolutely no resolution

So, I’ll rate this as a big fat “no thank you.”

-M

Bittersweet

This book was quite a disappointment. The plot line was meandering and hard to follow, and the main character had almost no autonomy. India Taylor is a 43 year old woman stuck in an unsatisfying marriage. She has four children under the age of 15 and a husband who doesn’t appreciate what she gave up to raise their kids (a prize-winning career as a photojournalist). When India meets Paul Ward, he encourages her to go after what she wants, and continue photography.

What bothered me most about this seemingly innocuous plot line was that India spent the beginning of the novel listening to her husband’s wishes, and the middle part of the novel listening to Paul’s wishes. It took another man telling her that she should be still photographing things for her to stop listening to her husband, who forbade her to continue working. (Spoiler alert!!)

India ends up getting a divorce from Doug, her husband, and Paul and her begin a short-lived romance. After one week, Paul decides he doesn’t love her and leaves her. I guess this is the point in the story where we are supposed to believe that India learns to live for herself and her children, and not a man. Somehow, however, I did not get that. The end is definitely corny and romantic(ish), but certainly not worth the first 400 pages of female subordination.

The back cover of the book, however, is pretty amazing (and actually the reason M bought it for me)

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-A

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; 2008

The book took A LOT out of me. Olive Kitteridge is a collection of short stories about the residents of Crosby, a small town in Maine. Olive Kitteridge is a stormy force in the town: the wife of the kind pharmacist, Henry, and a fearful math teacher at the school. Olive becomes the life and center of the collection, as she filters in and out of other people’s lives, impacting them in ways she doesn’t realize. I’m not sure I would have read this one if not for my personal challenge to read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, because everything I heard about this book was that it was uber depressing. True – but I’m so glad I read this.

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I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE short story collections that are tied together by characters crossing in and out of each other’s lives. It reminds me of Forster’s ‘Only connect,’ and how personal relationships and humans help to define one another. Olive is featured predominately in most of the stories, but it’s the stories where she appears only briefly in that background that the reader gets a better understanding of the depth of her character.

It is depressing as hell. Mostly because it’s TOO real. Strout captures life and getting older to a T, which I think probably makes readers (myself included) uncomfortable. There’s a lot of death, a lot of affairs, and a ton of heartbreak. But it’s also about the choices we make, and how we see ourselves v. how we’re seen by other people.

I made the MAJOR mistake of watching the HBO miniseries when I was about 3/4 of the way finished with the book. The miniseries is about 80% more depressing than the book, so I almost couldn’t bring myself to finish. I’m glad I did; the ending isn’t quite what you think, and it ends with hope and appreciation for life. Olive and its characters will stay with me probably forever. Have some fresh doughnuts around when you read this one. Trust me.

-M

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2)

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith; 2014

I didn’t love The Cuckoo’s Calling, but was for some reason overtaken a couple of weeks ago with an urge to read the second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm. Probs because I want to continue to show solidarity to my girl JK Rowling. This time I knew what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I really liked this book – I didn’t love it, but I’m almost there. Maybe the third book in the series will be the charm for me.

In The Silkworm, novelist Owen Quine goes missing. His wife calls Strike to investigate, believing that Quine has gone off for a few days as he’s done in the past. Quine has just completed a manuscript with thinly disguised libelous portraits of nearly everyone he knows – a few of them important publishers and bestselling writers. If the novel is published, it will ruin reputations. When Quine is found murdered, everyone portrayed in his manuscript becomes a suspect.

Like Cuckoo, the second Strike novel started off at a slow pace, but then picked up a lot faster than its predecessor. There were more sinister characters and goings-on, which I’m all about. There are still a lot of conversations and interviewing in The Silkworm, but these interviews were a lot more interesting and concise than in Cuckoo. I think I was also just a lot more interested in Silkworm’s mystery. Most of the mystery and the suspects are in the publishing world, which appeals to my personal interests.

What I DIDN’T like at  all was that Strike and Robin knew who the killer was for about 60 pages before it was revealed to the reader. I’m not into that, but that was really my only grievance. The relationship between Robin and Strike is still a little weird to me but oh well. I still don’t LOVE Strike as a main character, but he’s growing on me. Career of Evil is about a serial killer so I’m all over that.

-M

 

Every Fifteen Minutes

Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline; 2015

Where to begin? I liked this book as I was reading it. It was fast-paced and fairly thrilling. But then I got to the end.

The basic premise: Dr. Eric Parrish is a very successful psychiatrist; he is chief of the psych unit at Havemeyer General Hopsital and also sees private clients at his home. Eric is a shining picture of humanity, and his morals are FIERCE. Probably too fierce – more on that later. He’s also recently separated from his wife, and is in the middle of a custody battle for his seven-year-old daughter, Hannah. While that’s happening, he takes on a new client, 17-year-old Max, who is suffering from OCD and violent thoughts about a girl he likes. Good. And, it that wasn’t enough, Eric is also unknowingly being targeted by a sociopath out to destroy him. Dun dun duhhh.

The best part about reading a thriller is for the twist ending – obvi. The end of this book, however, was like wait wut? It ended SO abruptly and sort of randomly that I felt like I had invested the time to read 432 pages without a reward. What was most disappointing is that it could have been so much better if more time had been put into laying out the ending, including more detail about what the sociopath really did. Instead it was basically like: Yeah, it’s me. I’m the sociopath. The end.

ANYWAY –

Eric is also incredibly dumb. It’s just one stupid decision after another for this guy. SO dumb that I didn’t even feel bad for him because the only reason he landed in bad situations was 95% of the time thanks to himself. He’s supposed to be a psychiatrist, yet he can’t seem to make any logical decisions. There is a truly ridiculous scene toward the middle-end that I won’t elaborate on for the sake of spoilers, but oh man.

ALSO, pretty much the entire book hinders on the doctor/patient confidentiality law ad nauseum. I wish I had counted how many times Eric said that he couldn’t talk about something because of the confidentiality. Okay, GOT IT!!! The whole confidentiality thing started to feel like a crutch/excuse for the entire book. It would have been about 100 pages if Eric had just broken the confidentiality for the sake of, oh, I don’t know, helping to solve a murder?

All of that said, it was a fast, mostly fun read. This reminded me of a less-flowery Jodi Picoult minus the courtroom drama. Scottoline is a good writer, and I’m interested in reading some of her other stuff. And, like I said, it’s definitely thrilling.

-M