Thursday, September 17, 2015

I wanted a life that was built like a rock that would not break.

HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anna is an American living in Switzerland for nearly a decade, thanks to her marriage to Bruno, a Swiss native. They have three young children and on the outside, Anna has a idyllic life - a loving husband, a nice home, beautiful children. But inside, she is wrecked with turmoil and depression. She feels isolated in Switzerland, a country where she still barely knows the language despite having resided there for so long. Anna enrolls in German classes and also embarks on a series of affairs, but nothing seems to appease what ails her.

I had read positive reviews of this book in several places and decided to give it a try. It was slow going at first, and I almost set it aside in exchange for some books that interested me more. I won't lie - I wish I had. There's just something about this book that irritated me to no end. It's true that Anna is not a particularly likable character - she cheats on her husband and doesn't seem to give much to her children - but that's not exactly it. I almost wish the book had started earlier in Anna's life, so we could potentially understand why she'd become this unstable, depressed housewife, or hausfrau, as our title indicates. We're told she hates living in Switzerland, but is that really it? She's surrounded by a stock of predictable characters - her callous husband, her socialite friend, her oblivious lovers... no one in the novel seems like a fully-formed character and, as such, I had trouble really caring about what happens to them. I probably felt the worst for Anna's three kids.

There were definitely parts that hurt me to read, but overall, the book seemed flat and pointless. The ending irritated me. I'd give it a 2.5 stars overall, but still - rather than having sympathy for Anna - I found myself annoyed with her and the entire book.

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Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Park first sees Eleanor get on the school bus, he cringes. Everything about her is wrong - her size, her hair, her clothes. He knows the other kids will pick on her immediately. But for some reason, he tells her to sit down next to him, despite knowing it will attract attention -- exactly what Park doesn't want. However, over time, Park and Eleanor forge an unlikely friendship-- attention be damned.

I feel like reviewing this book can't do it justice. This was a lovely, amazing, heartwarming, heartbreaking novel. Rowell does an unbelievable job of capturing adolescent love, relationships, and high school life. And not your typical YA cool kids, easy romance, where the protagonists "meet cute" and fall in love on Day 1. Park and Eleanor's friendship isn't easy, their relationship isn't easy: their lives aren't easy. Rowell portrays all of this beautifully, even if it's agonizing to read, without making it seem trite. Park and Eleanor are two of the most developed characters I've read about in ages. They leap off the pages, to the point where I wanted to adopt Eleanor and hug and befriend Park.

The book slowed a bit for me in the middle -- the creep of an adolescent relationship can be a bit rough -- but it's worth it. The ending is crushing, in many ways, and I would just about kill for a sequel, even though I can grudgingly probably admit it's best the way it ended. No matter what, a beautiful read-- so worth your time-- and one I'll be recommending to anyone I can find who hasn't read it yet.

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Pretty BabyPretty Baby by Mary Kubica

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heidi lives a busy life, trying to keep up with a busy job in public service, her role as a mom to her distant 12-year-old daughter Zoe, and juggling marriage to her husband Chris, a corporate lawyer. One day on the way to work, Heidi spots a young teen holding a baby-- the two are waiting for the train in the pouring rain. Heidi is haunted by the image and when she spots them again, she reaches out and makes contact with the teen, Willow. Eventually, Heidi's life becomes embroiled with that of Willow's and the baby, Ruby.

This book certainly lives up to its psychological thriller billing. It's a page-turner, even as it gets slightly more bizarre as the plot thickens. It captivated my attention and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. The plot is definitely a little "out there," and I'd probably rate it as 3.5 stars overall, but still a fun and intriguing read. 

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