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Melinda Ott has commented on (185) products.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Interestings

Melinda Ott, July 29, 2015

As anyone who has had any contact with me while I was reading this, they already know that I did not enjoy this book. In fact, I've said--and I stand by he sentiment--that if I, myself, had not been the one to recommend this to my book club, I would have DNF'd it.

I know, what a way to start out a review...but stick with me here

There were two things that really bothered me about this book. First of all, I'm just tired of books about the intelligentsia of New York. I don't mean the actors, writers, etc of New York, but the rich folk whose talent seems to be more due to their birth and trust funds than any skills they develop. Secondly, the sort of turning point plot line hit a bit too close to home for me as it was very reminiscent of some things going on with people close to me,

But, you see, while those are valid reasons for me not to like this book, I will admit that they are very subjective reasons. Because of that, I can't base on whether or not I would recommend this book on how I felt about it. So, let me try to take my feelings out of this and look at the mechanics of the book.

There were things that I did like this book, and things that I found problematic. I enjoyed Woltizer's writing--it kept me engaged, which is saying a lot since I didn't actually like the book. She does an impressive job of placing the narrative in time. This story spans from the early 70's to the current day and the reader always feels like they are in the same time as the characters. One of my favorite scenes was near the end (not a spoiler!) where the two elderly owners of the camp are reminiscing about the camp's glory days--I was immediately transported to the scene in Dirty Dancing where Max Kellerman and Tito Suarez are talking about how things are not like they used to be in the Catskills (and it is always a good thing when a book evokes Dirty Dancing!).

I felt the characters well-rounded, but I can't say that I liked any of them. In fact, the only character I did like was the tertiary Rory, who is fun and wild and doesn't fit at all with the her family and the other characters in the book. Then there is the issue of Jonah. There is nothing wrong with the character of Jonah--except the fact that he is completely superfluous to this book. He could be completely lifted out of the narrative and it would have no impact on the story whatsoever. In fact, there were times when I completely forgot about him--only to have him turn up and have 100 pages devoted to him.

Ultimately, if I take my own personal feelings out of this book, I will admit that there were some great things about it and some things that just did not work. Would I recommend it? Well, I probably wouldn't offer up this title as a recommendation, but if someone asked if they should read it, I'd tell them to go ahead. They might like it. Or they might not.
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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Melinda Ott, July 23, 2015

Some books are just more "bookish" than others. I know that sounds crazy--how can books be more or less bookish?--but it is true. This is a book for people who love books, and who understand the power of literature.

A.J. Fikry is a prickly fellow when we first meet him, still reeling from the death of his wife several years earlier, and determined to drink himself to death. Then, things change and, due to circumstance, he begins to let a few more people into his life. I liked that A.J. was rather prickly when we first met him and, even though his life circumstances change dramatically, he still maintains a bit of that prickliness. Too often, characters make an unrealistic transformations where they go from angry, bitter, what have you to bundles of joy and rainbows. A.J. is not like that....he is who he is.

I loved the fictional island of Alice. Zevin created a quaint town and brought it to life without going all Lake Wobegon on it (Lake Wobegon is great, but a town as "full" of that would not have worked there). There were a few "townsfolk" who were brought into the main narrative, which was just enough for a novel of this scope.

I was immediately sucked into the narrative in a way where I was happy to just go along with what has happening,so I didn't think too much about what was coming next in the plot. Because of that, I personally didn't find the plot predictable, but I can't speak for others.

There were a couple minor things that bugged me. Some of the time jumps were just a bit too long for my tastes. I would have preferred more time jumps of less time that less time jumps of greater time. There was also a character, who was set up to be a major player, that was cut out of the plot rather abruptly and, in my opinion, in a clumsy manner.

Still, these complaints are minor and they don't change the fact that this is one of the most enjoyable books I've read all year. I would recommend it to any reader.
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The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
The Bishop's Wife

Melinda Ott, July 22, 2015

This is one of those cases where, even though I have some real concrete complaints about this book--and complaints that would lead me to DNF another book--I just could not stop reading this and, as much as I hate to admit this, I enjoyed the experience, even if I can't say that I enjoyed the book.

I had heard quite a bit about this book in the months since it had been published, but much of what I heard was mixed, so the bar was--well, there was no bar for my expectations going into the reading. This is not a Cozy Mystery, but it definitely has some of the hallmarks of that sub-genre: The somewhat of a buttinsky main character who becomes an amateur detective, a close-knit society (in this case, the LDS ward), and the relatively clean storytelling. However, it is much darker than a cozy mystery and lacks any of the (intentional) quirkiness that one would find in those books. The fact that this book was somewhere between a Cozy Mystery and a Thriller might have been what sucked me in.

I am not a Mormon, although I grew up in an area with a large LDS population, so I know maybe just a tad more than the basics about the religion, but I can't say I have any first-hand experience. I did notice from other reviews that people are split as to whether this book is an accurate description of the Mormons or not. I don't know, but I will say that the details were at least interesting, but my views of the LDS remain unchanged.

I can't say that I found the characters to be especially dynamic--Linda, as the main character, was the most developed, but I didn't really feel that she grew as a person as the book progressed. The other characters all seemed pretty one-dimensional, which I can mostly overlook. I did wish that she had given Linda's husband, Kurt, more personality. I also felt that she left a couple character points unfinished--specifically with two of her sons. It felt like she was going to explore something with them, but it never happened.

There are actually two mysteries in this book that are related thematically, although they are separate in the plot. Strangely, it works here and Harrison handles juggling these two plots well. Harrison's writing style isn't particularly memorable, but I didn't feel like I was tripping over her prose. I did wish, however, that she infused more emotion into her words.

Plot-wise, this book moved at a good clip. There were plenty of twists and turns so that I stayed interested, but things did get melodramatic at the end, which was a letdown for me. But, my biggest problem with this book was something else: victim shaming.

There was a character in this book who does a fair amount of victim shaming--I'm not saying that victim shaming is ever acceptable, but it was done as part of his character so it isn't anything I can hold against Harrison or this book. Yet, as the story progressed--probably the last 3rd of the book or so--I would say that Harrison herself does a fair amount of victim shaming with the choices she makes about a character and their actions. It didn't really fit with what was going on and, frankly, had it come up earlier in the book, it may have led me to DNF the whole thing.

Frankly, I'm not really sure what to say about this book. It has problems--some I can overlook and some I can't. The experience of reading this book was an enjoyable one, even if I can't say that I enjoyed the book once I was finished with it. I may still recommend it, though, depending on the reader and what they are looking for.
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Beautiful Ruins (P.S.) by Jess Walter
Beautiful Ruins (P.S.)

Melinda Ott, July 21, 2015

This is one of those books that has been near the top of my TBR list for over a year, but it kept getting pushed aside for other books. Then, I received a copy through one of my postal book clubs and had to read it...and I'm so thankful that I did.

I have to admit that I was familiar with Jess Walter as a person, but not as an author before reading this. I listen to the podcast he does with Sherman Alexie and the two make a great pair. However, I couldn't quite picture the person from the podcast writing a story as chronicled in the summary. Luckily, it turns out that the man and the story merge perfectly.

Reading this book felt like an extravagant vacation--the reader goes to Rome, to a small village on the Italian coastline, to Hollywood, to Idaho, to London and Edinburgh, and to Beaverton (although that last one probably doesn't fall into the "vacation" category!). Obviously, this book is all over the place--not just geographically, but also chronologically. I was worried about that, but it did work for me in this case. I was able to follow all the story lines without any problem.

The characters are what really make this book work. I won't go into the specifics about each one (like story lines, characters abound here), but I will say that I found myself relating to all of them, including the one really unlikable (yet entertaining) character. Because there are so many people and story lines, Walter explores facets of the characters instead of developing the entire character. In another book, I would find this annoying. However, there is more than enough here so that Walter's approach is successful.

All in all, this was a lovely and satisfying book, with something for every reader. I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation.
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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman

Melinda Ott, July 17, 2015

Let me start by saying that this was the most unique reading experience that I've ever had. It wasn't that there was anything especially unusual about the story, but the circumstances around the book are one-of-a-kind.

It is important to know the context of this novel--this was the first book that Harper Lee wrote. It was rejected by the publishers with a note that she should explore the childhood of the main character, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. Lee took that note and wrote another book, To Kill a Mockingbird. This manuscript was filed....until something happened. Things get murky from that point and it isn't really clear when this manuscript was "discovered"and if Harper Lee actually consented to the publication.

So, it is set after To Kill a Mockingbird, but it isn't truly a sequel. It is more of a story about an alternate universe Maycomb, Alabama and its famous literary inhabitants. The first question that came to my mind was why was this book rejected in the first place? After reading it, I can think of a couple reasons. For one thing, it might have pushed the boundaries of what was considered "acceptable" in mainstream fiction in the 50s. There are reference to child molestation, someone is compared to Hitler, a lot of discussion about racial issues, and a scene involving an unfortunate pair of falsies (and that last one is excellent!). I have a feeling that some of the things this book touched on may have been a bit too "hot" for a publisher to take on.

There is also the problem that, plot-wise, this book is a bit light. The plot isn't "bad," but it isn't really novel-sized. This plot could have been expressed in a short story or a novella, although most of the very entertaining, but non-essential, scenes would have had to be cut. I would love to know what someone who has never read To Kill a Mockingbird would think of this because, for me, this is really dependent on To Kill a Mockingbird.

There were also some stylistic things that don't show up in To Kill a Mockingbird that may not have gone over well--mostly things where the narration switches from third-person to first-person stream-of-consciousness. I don't recall this happening in To Kill a Mockingbird and I'll admit that I was a little confused by it at times.

The original suggestion that Lee should write about Scout's childhood does make sense. We all know about the wonderfully precocious Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, but I must tell you that the Jean Louise of this book is freaking awesome. I can't think of another character of that age in literature who I have enjoyed as much as I did Jean Louise (who I will call Scout from here on out--because she will always be Scout in my mind). She's opinionated and brash and knows how to make a situation deliciously uncomfortable. Also, this Scout is a natural evolution of the Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. There are a lot of flashback scenes to her childhood and they read as if they could have come out TKAM.

And, now, the elephant in the living room--Atticus. Unless you have no access to the internet (in which case, you wouldn't be reading this review) you know that Atticus is not what we expect in this book. I would like to take a moment to call every outlet (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Mashable, The Guardian, and others!) who felt that they should spoil this jerks. You are all jerks. There, I said it.

But it is an important part of this book. Is Atticus a racist? By, 2015 standards, yes. By Scout's standards, yes. By mid-1950's standards? Maybe not. I mean, this was a contemporary novel when it was written, I mean, by 2015 standards, some of the things that Scout says are racist as well. (And to be fair, neither is as racist as Ma Ingalls....)

I'm not excusing any of this, but I think that it is important to place it in history. I think that modern readers should be upset about the racism here--not in a "how dare you" sort of way, but in a "we were wrong" sort of way. I think that a reader needs to be able to separate the myth of Atticus Finch from the literary Atticus Finch. I have to say that because what I'm about to say next may not sit well with some people: In my mind, I can see that the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird can become the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman.

I'm not saying that Atticus was racist in TKAM--but what I'm saying is that he could have been. Remember, TKAM was told through the eyes of a child who idolized her father. In Go Set a Watchman, that child has grown up and lived on her own in another part of the country.

Should you read this book as a sequel or as an unrelated book? I don't think you can read it as a completely unrelated book--there is just too much overlap between the two. But I don't know that you can read it as a strict sequel either as there are things that just don't add up. For example, the trial of Tom Robinson is alluded to in passing in this book, but the details-and outcome--were different, I guess you have to find where you are comfortable between the two options and read it from that point. I will say, though, that this book does seem dependent on To Kill a Mockingbird. However, I am a person who has read TKAM several times, so I already had that at the forefront of my mind going into Go Set a Watchman.

I'm going to close with what I thought was so profound about this book--and that is that it was published when it was. The issues this book deals with are still with us. The same arguments that are used against Civil Right in this book are used to support flying the Confederate flag today. Things that are said about African Americans are still said about minorities. It is amazing how little has changed in 50+ years.

I am immensely glad to have read this book (and I truly hope that Harper Lee DID give consent to its publication). The experience in reading it is something I will never experience again and it takes the issues that are raised in To Kill a Mockingbird and brings it home.
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