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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity

Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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Melinda Ott has commented on (128) products.

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
The House We Grew Up In

Melinda Ott, August 18, 2014

Since it becomes quite obvious early on, I don't think it is a spoiler to say that this book is about, among other things, hoarding. I'm actually rather glad that this wasn't spelled out in the summary because I'm not sure I would have read this book if it was. There are some borderline-hoarders in my family and, well, this isn't a topic that would appeal to me.

That being said, I am so glad that I read this book. Jewell has written a masterpiece with this one--we meet the Bird family, centered around the eccentric mother, Lorelei. Lorelei's children (and husband) are aware of their mother's illness and we see how the ripple effects of that illness show up in her children.

This story is told in sort of a double-flashback. One one layer, we have the oldest daughter Megan and her daughter (and then other members of the family) in the present day. Then, we go back a few months in time to Lorelei's email correspondence with an internet suitor. Finally, we go farther back in time to when the children were growing up and into their adulthood. This structure shouldn't work....but it does! It sounds confusing, but Jewell actually does this quite seamlessly.

I really enjoyed seeing how the characters developed. Each had their own cross to bear and none could escape the effects of Lorelei's illness. I felt that the characters and their evolution were believable--with one exception. Colin's story arc was a bit over the edge for me. It almost felt like Jewell was using him and doing everything in her power to keep a secondary character in the story to catapult part of the greater plot along (if that makes any sense).

Lucikly, Colin's storyline was the only drawback for me and, if it hadn't been for that, I would have given this book 5 stars. I heartily recommend it!
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This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
This Is Where I Leave You

Melinda Ott, August 15, 2014

I wanted to like this book, I really did! This title has been on my radar for some time and, since the movie version will be out soon , I thought I'd better put it at the top of my TBR list.

The good part of it, for me, was that I think the overarching store--a family coming together to sit Shiva for their faither--could make a good movie. However, I think that a number of, ahem, liberties would have to be made for that to happen. Frankly, the book just didn't live up to the promise.

I think it was from James Joyce's Ulysses where the idea that a man thinks about sex once every 11 seconds comes. Idon't know if that is true, but I think Tropper is trying to prove that in this book. Everything thought from Judd, the main character, seems to be about sex. The characters seem to talk only about sex. It's all just sex--and not really "mature" sex. Instead, it seems more like teenaged boy sex--which would be fine if this book were about a teenaged boy. But it's not. It's about adults--although I guess an argument can be made that these characters are teenagers stuck in adults' bodies.

I also was never really sure what this book was about. Is it about Judd and his family? Judd and his unfaithful wife? Judd and the girl who got away? This book was going so many directions at once that I always felt unmoored in it.

Tropper is a readable writer and there were some funny (in a potty-humor sort of way) parts in this book. But, ultimately, it was disappointment.
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When the World Was Young by Elizabeth Gaffney
When the World Was Young

Melinda Ott, August 14, 2014

This was an interesting book, but a rather hard book for me to rate. There were some 5-star aspects of this book, as well as some 3-star aspects--so it was a bit of a mixed bag.

I did really enjoy the era in which this book was set. I've read books set during WWII and books set in the 50s, but very few books I've read look at those two periods together. The setting of this book is such a rich time--a nation recovering from war and the early stages of the modern Civil Rights and Feminist movements. I also quite liked Wally--we meet her as a precocious tween who shadows the son of her grandmother's African-American maid and then watch her grow into adulthood. And her world is not typical--both her Grandmother and Mother are physicians in a time when few women went into that profession.

However, it took me a while to get into this book. I think part of the problem is the structure. We start at VJ day and then immediately go through an extended flash-back period and then--at least 25% of the way into the book--back to VJ day when the story really starts. It wasn't until we came back to that period that I was really able to invest myself in this book.

My other frustration with this book comes as the book ends. While I found the plot interesting, I felt that , as the conclusion neared, Gaffney backed away from delving deeper into the social issues facing the characters. She had done this earlier in the book, which is what made it seem lopsided to me.

Ultimately, I'm glad I read this book and I did enjoy it--but I could have enjoyed it more if some of the structural issues had been corrected. I would probably still recommend this book as I found it to be readable and unique, but I wouldn't tout it as being one of the best out there.
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Three Bargains by Tania Malik
Three Bargains

Melinda Ott, August 13, 2014

This was an interesting book to read and a somewhat difficult book to review. It was an engrossing story and kept my attention from the first page. However, I can't say that I always enjoyed reading it. But, then again, I don't believe that the author meant for this book to be enjoyable.

Madan is an interesting character--he almost strikes me as being Dickensian. He's very dynamic as he coasts the arc of this rags to riches to rags to riches to....(I'm not going to tell you how it ends up!). I didn't find any of the other characters in this book to be as faceted as he is. However, for the most part, that is fine. The only character I wish did have more depth was that of Avtaar Singh, who seemed just a bit too mysterious for me.

This book came touted as being along the lines of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. While I believe that Three Bargains is in that vein, I wouldn't say it is quite up to the level of The Kite Runner. Like Hosseini's book, there are some truly violent and hard to read to read scenes in this book (although I found the scenes in The Kite Runner to be harder to stomach). However, it doesn't seem to have the same urgency as The Kite Runner.

This is definitely a book I'm glad I read and I would recommend it to some readers--specifically to those with an interest in books from different cultures and who can stomach a fair amount of violence and profanity. This would also be an excellent selection for a book club as there is much to discuss in it.
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The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

Melinda Ott, August 12, 2014

This little fact needs to be made public before I go any further. I purchased my copy of this book at the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, SD. Folks, I'm not just in the choir, I'm the director! So, the idea of someone going on a Laura Ingalls Wilder pilgrimage didn't seem the least bit strange to me, considering that was exactly what I was doing.

I've read one of McClure's earlier books and enjoyed it and I found her humorous style very fitting. I especially enjoyed her stops in De Smet, Walnut Grove, and Pepin as those were my LIW destinations (I need to somehow convince my husband that we need to go to Missouri and Kansas).

As much as I enjoyed reading this, I'm not going to say that McClure and I had identical experiences. For one thing, I am revisiting the books and visiting the sites as a mom, which she is not (and this is a distinction she makes in the book). I also seemed to be looking for something else--something that I found. After finishing this book, McClure sounds as though she never found what she was looking for.

I certainly cannot blame McClure for the fact that her experience differs from mine and I'm really okay with that. However, there were times when McClure seemed to make blanket statements about other Laura Ingalls Wilder fans that seemed a bit judgmental to me. She tends to speak as if other LIW fans (not including herself) are all camping out and waiting for the apocalypse.

However, I was able to--well, if not overlook, at least tolerate--that. On the whole, however, this is an enjoyable book for people who enjoy the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
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