Book Review · Vacation Reads

Vacation Reads: Mini Reviews

I’m back from vacation and I read 3 books while I was there.  Here are my brief reviews on them.

Unfortunately, my Kindle stopped working for real a couple of days before my trip.  I was super bummed (and I still am a little bit) because I had downloaded a bunch of books from the library (I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that already).  Anyway, so I had to pack “real” books.  I took 4 books and 4 magazines with me, but read 2.5 books and 1 magazine during the trip (the third book I finished here at home last night).

secret keptThe first book I read was A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosney.  I read Sarah’s Key a while back and really enjoyed it, though it was heart wrenching.  When I heard de Rosnay had another book, I picked it up.  It’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time, so I packed it in my carry-on for my trip.  I ended up reading all but ~20 pages on the plane ride.

A Secret Kept is mostly narrated by Antoine Rey, the son of a wealthy family (with a few sections narrated in the third person).  He takes his sister to an island where his family used to go for summer trips when they were young children and during that time they reminisce about their last summer on the island as well as their mother who died shortly after that trip.  They begin to ask questions they don’t have the answers to and start searching to discover who their mother really was.

I enjoyed the book, but there were definitely some heavy themes.  The characters were really well done and relatable.  Some were likeable, others certainly less so.  It was a sad and tragic story, but there was also hope woven into it.  I won’t lie: there were definitely points in the story when I started to tear up a bit. I would definitely recommend it, and would love to hear your thoughts on it.

language of flowersThe second book I read was The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  This is another book I’ve had on my to read list for a while, ever since my mom mentioned it to me sometime last year, I think it was. A co-worker of mine lent it to me a month or so ago so it was also tossed into my carry on.

The Language of Flowers focuses on Victoria Jones, a girl who was orphaned as a baby and was bounced in and out of foster homes until she was 10.  After that, she was relegated to group housing until she turned 18 and was emancipated.  The story bounces back and forth between present day and her favorite foster home.  During that time, Victoria learns all about flowers and their meanings.  She tends to use the flowers that have negative meanings to keep people at arm’s length because she doesn’t think she’s worth it.  We eventually learn why Victoria was returned to the system after staying at that foster home, and we see how it has shaped her growth and what it really means to her.

Before reading this, I never especially cared for flowers (especially smelly ones…but go figure, I have 2 different flower tattoos…) Anywho, it is a lovely language and it’s amazing how much care some people will put into their flower choices.  The author thoughtfully compiled a dictionary of flower meanings at the end of the book (which I made copies of before returning to my co-worker yesterday).  Unfortunately, my two tattoos have meanings I don’t like (peony=anger and sunflower=false riches), but I still think the flowers are pretty.  I eventually plan to look up the flowers so I know what they look like.   However, if they stink, forget about it (I can’t stand the smell of lilies, too funeral parlor-ish).

I think this was my favorite of the three books I read during my trip.  It’s yet another heart wrenching storyline in some parts, you really feel for the main character, but get frustrated by her idea that she’s worthless.  A review I read recently said something like you just want to shake her and say stop it! (Unfortunately, I forget where I read it, but if you’re reading this let me know if it’s you!)

tigers wifeThe Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht was the third and last book I read on my trip.  This was the hardest one for me to get into.  I started reading it and only read about 10 pages.  Put it down for a day and then picked it up two days later.

This story is narrated by Natalia, a doctor in a Balkan country traveling to bring medicine to children in the aftermath of a war.  The story bounces back and forth between her present day, different points in her grandfather’s life, stories about a deathless man, and other random stories of different characters.  One of the main stories focuses on a girl when Natalia’s grandfather was a young boy, who was called the tiger’s wife.

I’m still debating on how I feel about it, so it clearly didn’t blow me out of the water.  I don’t think the writing style is all that polished.  In one part of the story, Natalia is talking about a boy and after about a paragraph a name is thrown in, but very abruptly, I had no idea if she was talking about that boy or if it was another person.

Sometimes the bouncing between stories (other than her’s or her grandfather’s) happened so quickly I wasn’t sure what was going on.  There are a lot of foreign names that I had trouble keeping track of.  The general story lines (Natalia’s grandfather and the tiger’s wife) are good, I just think they were delivered in a roundabout way and could have been better. I don’t think we really needed to see most of Natalia’s story; that her part after her grandfather’s death could have been written differently.  I think maybe there were too many ideas going on at the same time.  For example, she would introduce a new character (who would only appear for a short time) and instead of giving a brief paragraph or so back story, we jumped into a narration of the person’s life leading up to the time we meet them.   Towards the end I felt that some things were hinted at and I was waiting for confirmation, but none ever came.  (At the back of the book there is an interview between Obreht and Jennifer Egan and Obreht mentions that she liked to have open-endedness because she didn’t really like to have a story 100% given to her, she liked to think about it and draw her own conclusions, too.)  I also felt like I was left hanging about the deathless man a little bit, which was kind of disappointing because that was a good storyline too.  I mean, I understand how she left it, but it would have been nice to see certain things.

Okay, so after re-reading what I wrote, I guess I’m on the fence about this.  The story lines and ideas are good, but I didn’t really like how it was packaged.
Have you read any of these?  Thoughts?

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