Guest Review: Slaughterhouse 5

Hi everyone!

So you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been … scarce … of late. Well, let’s be honest, for a few months now. So the excuses include craziness at work, overwhelmingness of study, fatigue related to both of these, and, well, life. I am planning on getting back into the swing of things soon, but I also have an exciting treat for you – a guest review from a great friend of mine who also loves to read, and is awesome at putting her thoughts on books into words. So, here it is!

Goodreads link

Goodreads link

SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

First Published 1969

Stars: 5/5

A masterpiece.  This book will take you a step closer to the meaning of life.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 follows the journey of hapless American Optometrist Billy Pilgrim as he becomes entangled in the events of WW2 as a chaplain’s assistant.

However, this is a war story unlike you have ever encountered before.  The absurdity of war and the horrors that Billy witnesses result in him becoming at least partially unhinged- and his life thereafter is punctuated by episodes of time-travel and alien encounters.  The story concludes with the Dresden bombings as WW2 draws to a close.

Only a brilliant novelist could weave these elements into a work that is simultaneously so deep yet so consistently amusing and easy to read.  Vonnegut brings hilarity to the gruesome theatre of war in Europe.  Not something that would work in the hands of one less skilled.

Apart from being an enjoyable satire and a rather unconventional science fiction, make no mistake, this novel pulls some big political punches, especially when you consider it was first published in 1969 North America:

“I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.  I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that” p24.

This paragraph would undoubtedly be as screamingly relevant right now in November 2014 as it was when it was first written, given the current global conflicts we are faced with, and the gun control debate that rages in the United States.

Overall, this novel is well worth the small effort involved in reading it.

Justine

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Just One Day

Goodreads

Goodreads

 

Title: Just One Day

Author: Gayle Forman

Published: Definitions; Random House, 2013

 

BACK COVER

A whirlwind day in Paris…

A chance at true love…

Heartbreak is waiting just around the corner

 

MY THOUGHTS

Allyson is the good girl. On a “Teen Tours! Cultural Extravaganza” she sees all of what she is supposed to see, and very little of what she wants to see. So, on a whim, encouraged by Willem – cute boy she meets at the train station who calls her Lulu, they take off to Paris. What follows is the experience of a lifetime, followed by heartbreak. Going off to college on her return, she effectively wastes her entire first year pining for Willem. That said, she makes an awesome friend in the unique and hilarious Dee. If nothing else, read this book for him!

So after a crap year, she decides to go back to Paris, and therein lies a slightly corny, partly unrealistic, but touching coming of age romance story. Forman’s writing is excellent, as I’ve said before in my review of If I Stay & Where She Went. This is easy to read, a real page turner. I totally recommend if you don’t mind a bit of sap, a little exaggerated emotion (although, I suppose that’s what the teen years are about!), and some slightly unbelievable coincidences.

I had one frustration – if I knew Allyson, I’d either be slapping her about the head to get over it – or sending her to a psychiatrist. A good dark wallow is fine post break up, even recommended, but this was basically a one night stand, and she is deeply depressed for months. Admittedly, there is more to the picture, and I suppose the exaggeration works well in fiction.

 

However, I am looking forward to reading Willem’s half of the story in Just One Year.

Double Feature – If I Stay & Where She Went

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Goodreads

NOTE: FULL POST CONTAINS SPOILERS

 

Title: If I Stay

Author: Gayle Forman

Published: Speak; an imprint of Penguin, 2009

BACK COVER

On a day that started like any other…

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left – the most important decision she’ll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.

MY THOUGHTS

An interesting book. In a devastating car accident, Mia loses her parents and younger brother, and finds herself in a coma. NB: Not a spoiler. This happens in the first 15 pages. The novel is Mia’s struggle, during her coma, to decide whether to stay on this earth or move on.

That is the entire premise of the book – the whole thing takes place over her ICU stay. That said, this one was full of emotion. FULL of emotion. Do I stay with my boyfriend and friends, knowing that my entire family is gone and I have to learn to live without them? Or do I “follow the light”, go with my family, but leave my boyfriend and boyfriend to grieve for me, and not see how my life could pan out? Neither option is particularly appealing. Each comes with it’s own challenges.

Brilliantly written to pull on the heartstrings. An excellent choice for my first Gayle Forman novel!

 

Goodreads

Goodreads

Title: Where She Went

Author: Gayle Forman

Published: Doubleday; an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2011

 

BACK COVER

It’s been three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life. And three years he’s spent wondering why.

When their paths cross again in New York City, Adam and Mia are brought back together for one life-changing night.

Adam finally has the opportunity to ask Mia the questions that have been haunting him. But will a few hours in this magical city be enough to lay their past to rest, for good – or can you really have a second chance at first love?

 

MY THOUGHTS

When Mia was in hospital after a horrific car accident that killed her entire family, she made a decision. She made a decision to stay… but to leave Adam. This second novel follows both Mia and Adam three years following the accident, when they meet again. Once again, Forman makes you think and gives you all the feelings you didn’t know were inside you. Mia has had to deal with so much since the accident – and she dealt by avoidance. Now she can’t avoid any more. Adam is here and wants answers, and it is stirring up feelings she had hoped were gone for good.

I loved both these books – the many facets of one side in If I Stay, and the dealing with the aftermath in Where She Went. I read them back to back – in 2 days. I did them both in one sitting each – could not put them down. Forman is an excellent writer – just enough plot, great focus, character development over the two books. Absolutely recommend!

 

Have you read these two books? Did you love them?

Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Goodreads

Title: Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn

Published: Phoenix, Orion Books, 2012

BACK COVER

Who are you?

What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

MY THOUGHTS

WHOA. Holy crap. This was… hmm. I read quite a few blogs and reviews of this before I got to read it, and by the time I got to it I was a little apprehensive. I wanted to read it, but was nervous, because everyone LOVED it. EVERYONE loved it. So I had high expectations. Which were exceeded beyond I could imagine. This book is AMAZING. Creepy and quite unsettling, but amazing. If you can hack a visit to the dark side, please read this book. It is brilliant.

It’s taken me a little while to write this review, as I didn’t really know what to say. Or how to say it, especially without giving too much away.

The book is really well written. In alternating chapters, we hear from Nick, living through the police investigation with him, and at the same time we also get to read Amy’s diary from the last 5+ years, and learn more about their life. Little by little we get to know both of them. You think you know what’s going on, and then, BOOM. B-double truck comes screaming at you from the left side. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, so without saying too much, be prepared for more than one twist. And an ending that may not sit well with some people. But I liked it – it was unexpected. And made me a little queasy.

Everyone in book club loved this one. All of us flew through it. We had read a few in a row that we’d all found a bit ‘meh’, disliked, or not finished. At our last meeting, I was about halfway through “Gone Girl” and was loving it. Kinda-sorta-maybe itching to go home so I could finish it off.  So to guarantee an interesting read, the others decided to adopt it for our next one. Yay for that! No one picked the plot twists, and none of even considered the ending. Winner!

Final Thought: Gillian Flynn has a very dark and twisted mind. Do yourself a favour and read this book.

 

Next Book Club book: The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

A Prayer For Owen Meany

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Goodreads

Title: A Prayer for Owen Meany

Author: John Irving

Published: Bloomsbury, 1989

BACK COVER

In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire; one of the boys, Owen Meany, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.

MY THOUGHTS

Prior to reading this book, I had heard good things about it – I’d been wanting to read it for a while. It was a long book, and though I am usually quite a quick reader, for me this book was a little like running through mud. Each chapter was around 70 pages. For me, that’s too long. I’m sitting here, staring at the computer, trying to figure out what to say about it.

I have mixed opinions about “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. Parts of this book I really liked, but unfortunately I had to wade through a lot of long winded descriptions of things and situations that didn’t appear to have anything to do with the plot. There was a lot going on, and at times I wasn’t sure which plot lines to pay attention to and which ones were superfluous.

One of the major themes is faith, and Owen’s unfailing belief that he is a direct instrument for God’s work. Possibly one of the reason’s I struggled to find the story believable is that I am not especially religious. I felt that Owen used this belief as an excuse to get away with doing whatever the hell he wanted and offending anyone he felt like. Instead of observing manners or courtesy, he took no personal responsibility for his rudeness. I found his character self righteous, self important, and just plain irritating.

I think this is an interesting point, because a) I have friends who loved this book who aren’t religious, and b) I feel that some of the religious opinions put forward in this book may have offended some who are religious.

I did like the ending of the book. I thought it was original, and it did wrap up a few questions I had… and justified a couple of small annoyances I also had. Another thing I liked about the book was the writing. Not a whole lot to say on that point really, apart from outside of the fact that I found segments of the books boring and irrelevant, it was relatively easy to read.

If you’re looking for a book that will provoke some interesting conversations, this one will do it. Certainly kept my book club in discussion – with lots of different opinions!

Have you read A Prayer for Owen Meany? What did you think?

The Slap

GoodreadsTitle: The Slap

Author: Christos Tsiolkas

Published: Allen & Unwin, 2008

 

BACK COVER

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.

This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, friends and relatives, who are all directly or indirectly influenced by the slap.

In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question the way they live, their expectations and dreams, their beliefs and desires.

What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity – all the passions and conflicting loyalties – that family can arouse. In its clear-eyed and forensic dissection of the ever-growing middle class and its aspirations and fears, The Slap is also a poignant, provocative novel about the nature of commitment and happiness, compromise and truth.

 

MY THOUGHTS

I read “The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas when it first came out a few years ago. I definitely had mixed emotions about it, I loved a number of things – it was incredibly well written and the story just flowed. It was set in Melbourne which I relished – I could immerse myself even further into it as I knew the area it was set in.

I HATED all of the characters. Which I’m OK with. Any author who can have me disliking all of his characters and still loving the book is good by me. I liked that he dealt with a hot topic, provoking many a (heated, I’m sure!) discussion between friends who may differ in opinion.

I read it again for my book club a while ago. Ours is a pretty informal style book club, just a group of friends catching up over good food and wine and a book. But boy with this one were there some different opinions! The interesting thing was, everyone’s opinions on this were strong. Everyone was either vehemently against disciplining other peoples children/other people disciplining their children, or they were of the ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’ mindset.

I have engaged in this conversation with a few different groups of friends, and it never ceases to amaze me that those with children just don’t feel that those without children have a valid opinion. No, I don’t have children. But does that mean my opinion doesn’t count? Surely not. Sure, my opinion may change when I do have children, but then again, it may not. I know women with children on both sides of the fence. Some who are for discipline, and also some who are against.

I have also watched the TV series, and I was quite impressed. I thought it was well cast and I still didn’t like any of the characters. No, I lie. I liked Anouk. Who, admittedly, wasn’t particularly central to the storyline. I found most of the others to be lying, manipulative, immature people who were only interested in themselves. I also thought the event was well portrayed, not sugar-coated. And all of these same discussions were re-visited!

My personal (currently childless) opinion is that I would be happy to have my child disciplined – though I can’t say I’d be happy with physical violence like was portrayed in the show – by someone else, had I left the child in their care. In the understanding that this is clearly a person I trust. And I would expect my (at this point theoretical) child to behave at someone else’s house. And vice versa. That’s todays thought.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Goodreads

Goodreads

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Author: Lionel Shriver

Published: The Perseus Books Group, Counterpoint,2003

The Text Publishing Company, 2006 (my copy)

BACK COVER

Two years ago, Eva Khatchadourian’s son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a popular algebra teacher. Now, in a series of letters to her absent husband, Eva recounts the story of how Kevin came to be Kevin.

Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault? When did it all start to go wrong?

Or was it, in fact, ever ‘right’ at all?

 

 

MY THOUGHTS – OF BOOK AND MOVIE

I am always hesitant to see any movie made from a book that I like – it usually ends badly with me disappointed about the movie, and looking differently at the book. It to taint my opinion – I feel like if I don’t enjoy the movie, I have to question whether I really liked the book. Irrational, yes, but still.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a book that I’ve actually read a couple of times (not too many books make that list – there are so many exciting new stories out there!). Luckily, the most recent reading wasn’t that recent – maybe 12 months ago. This means that I can overlook (or more likely – not notice) small differences between the book and the movie.

The Book: Hit me like a ton of bricks. Well, the ending did, anyways. And that’s all the spoiler you’ll find here. We know from the start that Kevin shot up the school. That’s no secret. The book is written in Eva’s letters to Franklin, her husband, in the wake of the shooting. It’s a mix between current thoughts – Eva visiting Kevin in prison, and Eva flashing back and re-visiting Kevin’s entire life, from event to event. My opinion? Creepy kid. Something wrong with him right from the start. But what do you do, when it’s your child? How do you see the total sociopath in your own son? It’s interesting though, Eva always felt this. Franklin doesn’t see it. {side note – I don’t have children. I’m just imagining that it must be incredibly difficult and painful.}

The Movie: The big things were there. The plot wasn’t played with. Obviously to take a 450+ page book and turn it into a 2 hour movie there needs to be some concessions. My opinion is that one of these concessions was the depth of the relationship between Kevin and his sister Celia, and all that he did to her. On the whole, I really quite enjoyed the movie. I thought it was very well cast – Tilda Swinton was the perfect Eva, and that evil little toddler! So good it was almost creepy. I thought they could have developed Franklin’s character a little more, and played more on the wedge that Kevin drove through Eva and Franklin’s relationship. Because of these little intricacies, I would very much recommend you read the book before seeing the movie. You will get the themes out of the film, but you’ll definitely understand them much more fully having read the book.

I thought the book was very well written, and this translated into a very disturbing movie. My friend said it best – “I’ve never been so put off having children”. So there you have it people, this movie is great contraception.

This is a crazy good book club book – we got some great discussion especially with a mix of parents and non parents. My copy had a list of book club questions in the back also, which can be useful.

What is your opinion on books into movies? Any hits or misses that stand out in your memory?