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Melinda Ott has commented on (193) products.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train

Melinda Ott, September 30, 2015

I had to think about this book for a few days after I finished it to decide how much the hype around it affected my experience reading it. I do realize that I'm one of the last people on the planet to read this....which means I went into reading this knowing that it was supposed to be spectacular.

Did I find it spectacular? Not at all. There was much I liked about it. Hawkins has a great writing style and sh mastered the pace of the book so that not only did she control the rate at which information became to available to the reader, but also so that she could build up the necessary dramatic tension. The story is told through the eyes of 3 women, which sounds like a disaster. Hawkins, however, successfully develops three distinct voices so that the reader is never confused about who is who.

Rachel, the main character, is expertly drawn. She is at rock bottom at the start of the book and manages to go lower and lower. My reaction to her was not that she was unlikable, but that she was pitiful and I believe that was what Hawkins was going for with her.

The story itself is interesting, although I will admit to figuring out the mystery well before I think the author wanted me to. For most of my life, that would be a major strike against the book. However, I've become such a critical reader in the past few years that I've learned to just accept that as par for the course in my reading now. Because of that, I don't think I'm a good source for someone wanting to know if they'll be surprised by twists and turns in this book.

My biggest problems with the book was that I couldn't find a single character to really root for. As I said, Rachel was pathetic to the point that she felt like a lost cause. All the other major characters, whoever, were just downright unlikable. I couldn't stand any of them. I think Hawkins tried to make two of the minor characters--Megan's therapist and Rachel's roommate--somewhat "nice" but she essentially failed on both counts. Megan's therapist, well, makes some bad choices. Rachel's roommate, Cathy, on the other hand, is just downright unbelievable. Most of the time, she's little Miss Sunshine and, when she's not, she doesn't really have any teeth in her bite. I'm not saying that Hawkins needed a nice hero in this book somewhere but, as a reader, I needed someone--even a minor character--that I felt had some humanity and who I could root for. Without that, I never felt completely pulled into the book.

In line with that, I really felt that there was some serious male-bashing in this book. The men, like everyone else, are not "nice," but they are not nice in very stereotypical and predictable ways. I wish Hawkins had found a more unique way to create the male characters and had stayed away from tired cliches.

In the end, The Girl on the Train didn't live up to the hype for me, nor did I feel that it was unique enough to deserve all the hype. However, I can recognize why others would enjoy this book. While I would recommend this book, I would be selective on who I would recommend it to. This book is really for people who are looking for something dark and twisty and are able to get sucked into a book without needing a character for them to root for.
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Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
Who Do You Love

Melinda Ott, September 22, 2015

Jennifer Weiner is one of my go-to authors. I find her incredibly entertaining, but not fluffy. She is amusing without being comic and touching without being maudlin. Mostly, I enjoy her take on modern women's lives. This particular book has a special bit of notoriety in my reading life: it is the title that drew me out of the worst reading slump I've ever encountered.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book However, I can't say that I enjoyed all of it. The love story is pretty straightforward, but I never felt that in lacked in complexity. While I didn't find it to be one of those love stories that just knocked the breath out of me, it was an entertaining one to read I enjoyed how Andy's character developed. He's quite different from other characters that Weiner has created and I found his growth both natural and surprising. I understood his emotions as portrayed in the book and his actions made sense (even if they sometimes made me furious).

Rachel was a different story for me. Frankly, she's a mess. I don't mean she's an emotional mess (or a slob), but she is messily constructed. She is initially presented as being defined by her heart condition and I found that interesting. However, that is dropped completely as she grows older. I understand that her condition is under control, but it was such a formative influence on her early life and then it was just sort of erased from her character. I also found the trajectory of her character frustrating. She starts as a young girl with a heart condition, then she is a teenager looking for love. Once she goes to college, she becomes a shallow sorority sister who doesn't seem to be at all connected to her childhood. Then, the next time she appears, she's the complete opposite of what she was as she becomes a social worker working with families in need. Finally, she becomes, well, a character I know I've read in other books by Jennifer Weiner--the unsatisfied Jewish woman who, in her mind, is just not good enough. That on its own is fine, except that Weiner has used that trope a bit too frequently in her books. At the end of it all, I was never able to form any kind of connection with Rachel and I wished that the book had been Andy's story, with Rachel as a supporting character.

The book is told from Andy's and Rachel's viewpoints in alternating chapters. This in itself is fine--and probably necessary for the way Weiner had constructed the book. But I found it disconcerting that Andy's chapters were in 3rd person and Rachel's were in 1st person. I can't say I have a preference of one viewpoint over the other, but constantly switching between the two created what I considered an unnecessary challenge for the reader.

Weiner includes a lot of cultural detail in this book. At first, I loved it--these characters are about my age and, when I was reading their stories in their younger years, I became very nostalgic. As the story--and time in the story--progressed, however, it began to just be gimmicky to me. Andy and Rachel found themselves in the midst of several "generation defining" events, the two most notable being 9/11 and the athletic doping scandals. The latter was necessary for the story, but the former seemed a little too, well, Forrest Gump-ish to me.

But, as I said, I did enjoy this book--enough that it pulled me out of my slump (and, trust me, that is quite an accomplishment). Do I think it was Weiner's best work? No. (I'd still go to In Her Shoes for that....), but it certainly wasn't her worst. If you are looking for a not-so-fluffy love story and are willing to overlook a few flaws, Who Do You Love might be for you.
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The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
The Race for Paris

Melinda Ott, September 9, 2015

hink everyone just needs to agree with this fact: you can never have too much WWII Historical Fiction. I'm sure that there are readers, somewhere, who reading nothing but WWII Historical Fiction and they are never lacking for material. Even if you aren't one of those readers, this is definitely a book to consider.

This is a fast paced book--although one could probably guess that just from the title. The plot is constantly moving as the action moves through Europe. Yet, among all this, Clayton is still able to successfully develop the three main characters. The story is told in first person, from Jane's point of view, which I found interesting choice given the circumstance. While she tells the story, she more of an observer than an active participant. Liv is clearly the center of this book. She is the one who wants to make it to Paris and she is the one who has the most to prove by doing so. Jane and Fletcher tend to orbit Jane. I really enjoyed how Clayton explored the relationship between Liv, Fletcher, and Jane. It's a difficult dynamic and she doesn't shy away from it.

I loved all the historical detail in this book and it is rare that I feel that I learned anything new when reading historical fiction (I read quite a bit of it and I have a degree in History, so I go into these books with my feet already wet). I had yet to read an account of this period of World War II from a journalistic point of view, so that was a nice change for me.

I do feel that I have to put this out there, though. This book is what I would consider "heavy" on the history--there are a lot of details and, even though Clayton expertly weaves them into the narrative, some readers might find this book to be bogged down by them all. I would not necessarily call this a strike against the book, but I would take it into consideration when recommending it to someone. I think you really need to be into the history to truly enjoy this book.

I had one gripe about this book--it wasn't especially major, but it was big enough that it did impact my enjoyment of the overall book. As I said, the book is told in first person from Jane's point of view. I have no problems with the first person point of view, but there are some pitfalls with it--and Clayton falls into one. There are passages scattered throughout the book where Jane relates scenes she is not a part of and is able to tell what is going on inside someone else's head. There are boundaries with any point of view, and probably more with the first person than any other, and Clayton sometimes steps over those boundaries.

This was an exciting and action-packed, yet not flawless, read. I enjoyed my experience reading it and I would recommend it to other fans of serious Historical Fiction.
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Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Melinda Ott, August 13, 2015

I really don't know if there is a book out there that is more suited to my tastes than this one. I love food and cooking (well, I don't always love cooking--but I love the idea of cooking), I love short story collections (this is a short story collection in novel form, if that makes any sense), and I love the Midwest. So, you know, sign me up.

This book lived up to all of my expectations and then some. The mechanics of this book are unique, which is something I don't come across too often. As I said, it is a short story collection in novel form. By that, I mean that each chapter is a distinct chapter, but they are all tied together through the character of Eva Thorvald. So, is Eva the main character? Well, yes and no. She is definitely the axis around which this book turns, but she appears less and less in the book as it progresses. In turn, other characters take center stage as their lives are touched in surprising ways by Eva. Honestly, if someone told me this was how it went, I never would have thought it would work But it does--marvelously.

At its heart, this is a story of parents and children, specifically mothers and daughters--but you don't see that until you've read the last word. Stradal is not overbearing with his theme and lets it develop organically over all the stories he includes. I appreciated that I wasn't hit over the head with THIS IS WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT and that Stradal let me discover it on my own.

And the food! Yes, there are recipes and I have a mostly love, but a little hate relationship with recipes in novels. I appreciate them but, unless they are collected at the end of the book, I find that they sometimes break up the flow of the narrative. Stradal not only doesn't save the recipes for the end, he puts them right smack dab in the middle of the narrative. Again, this should irritate the heck out of me, but he does it in a way that actually works. This is partly because there aren't that many recipes and also because, when he does include them, it is part of the action of the plot. Oh, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be making Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars in the very near future!

Let me close with this, several people that I know will most likely receive copies of this book for Christmas. It is that good!
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The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff
The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach

Melinda Ott, August 11, 2015

When I said that I was reading this book, a number of people told me how much they loved Pam Jenoff's books. I was a little ashamed to admit that this is the first of her novels that I've read. But, I can say now, that it definitely won't be the last.

This book had a lot going for it with me from the get go. I love immigrant stories and World War II historical fiction. Addie is a strong female character who is working to make it on her own but is enamored by the big Irish family next door (at least during the summer). Jenoff delivers on all these points and then some.

I really enjoyed Jenoff's voice. The story is told from Addie's point of view and she sounds like, well, like a young woman in the early 40's--not like an author from the early 21st century. I also really appreciated that Addie faced not only the obvious challenges like, oh, World War II but also some more subtle ones, such as gender equality in relationships.

This book is all over the place, but I mean that in a good way. Addie travels from Italy to the United States and then to England and back, but the action of the only spans 4 years. I found it fascinating how much Addie's world changed in such a short time, but I did question how easily she was able to travel across the Atlantic at pretty much the spur of the moment during wartime.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Addie is the most developed character, but Jenoff keeps the supporting cast from becoming to static. Each of the Connally brothers has a distinct personality, which helps to keep them straight at times. I also liked how Jenoff drew Addie's Aunt Bess. The impression the reader has of her is clearer (and fairer) than the one that Addie gives us.

This was a perfect read at the perfect time for me. It was an intriguing read that kept my attention with a fast plot and tight writing, but it wasn't so heavy that it became a chore. I would definitely recommend this book and I know I'll be reading more by Pam Jenoff in the future.
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