Review: The Goldfinch

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The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you look at this brick of a book your first impression, as mine was, might be: "Holy crap this better be good or I will use it as toilet paper for the next 10 years of my life!" The Goldfinch is a 771 page behemoth of a book (or in my case, a 36 hour audiobook joyride!) but it is one of the most incredible pieces of fiction I've read in a long time. I was travelling a lot in the last few month so I decided that it would be easier to tackle an audiobook of this scale than to hack away at a few pages at a time.

I would consider it to be primarily a book of "literary fiction", not clearly fitting into a subgenre that I generally read. It's one of those books that is built upon fantastically crafted characters and beautifully written prose. The writing is simply impeccable. Donna Tartt did something that is rare in books with a great concept - she executed it perfectly.

I have to admit that I have a great love for tragic characters (perhaps this says something of my own life) and The Goldfinch is chock full of them. There's something about Theo Decker that I think almost anyone can see in themselves. Many of his decisions are those that I could imagine myself making in such tragic circumstances. I found myself regularly on the edge of tears. I felt much like the boy in The Neverending Story movie who is so involved in the book that he can literally be heard and felt by the characters.

In my opinion, this is one of the best books of the year and should be read by everyone. It is surely a modern classic.

(Just a quick note on the audiobook version: The narrator, David Pittu, was one of the best I've ever experienced. I think that can often make or break a good book.)

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Review: Red Rising

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Red Rising
Red Rising by Pierce Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Giving Red Rising a 5-star review is likely one of the easiest things I will do today... and I plan to sit around and do not much more than take a long nap. In a sea of dystopian fiction, Red Rising has managed to stand out as something much more interesting. People are jumping quickly to compare it to The Hunger Games, Enders Game, etc. but that's such an unfair generalization of an incredible book simply because it has similar elements that are common in most dystopian fiction. Hunger Games is a kids book. Sure, I enjoyed it, but it was fluff. Red Rising is gritty and dark and adult. No, there's not much sex or profanity... but there plenty of violence. Bloody, ruthless, constant violence. And it's brilliant!

Red Rising is a combination of science fiction, dystopian fiction, and action/adventure. It was a sprinkling of all the best stuff about those genres packaged into an amazing nerdgasm!

I only really have one complaint in Red Rising: it's written in 1st-person. In general I hate this method of writing. It seems juvenile. Pierce Brown manages to make it work very very well but I still wish he would have chosen a different perspective. A minor flaw in the overall picture, I suppose.

This is arguably one of the best dystopian novels I've read. It takes all of the elements of a good story and combines them into an action-packed novel. There are very few series that I continue with but this one I will be waiting for impatiently.

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Review: Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action

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Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action
Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action by Nick Vujicic

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There is no question that Nick Vujicic is inspirational. He has overcome some incredible odds and has lived a fantastically interesting life. I've seen several videos of his speeches and lectures and thought I would have gobbled this book up. I was convinced I'd be flooded with emotion while flipping the pages.... but I wasn't.

I was actually bored. Terribly bored.

There are those people who absolutely crave self-help types of books and those who dread them. I'm somewhere in the middle. This one just didn't do it for me though. It goes in the pile on unfinished books for this year.

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Review: The Rosie Project

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The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was extremely disappointed by The Rosie Project. At the time I began reading it, its Goodreads rating was a 4.15 out of 5 which is pretty dang high. Many books of much higher quality are getting ratings much much lower. Now to be completely honest, this is more of a chick-lit type of novel, which I tend to avoid. It's a love story about a guy who thinks he can find a perfectly compatible wife by scientific means alone and all the while, without realizing it, he falls for a girl named Rosie who fits none of his criteria (this isn't a spoiler - you can pretty much figure it out by reading the book jacket).

The book is written as a comedy, which I think is its first great fault. I can think of only 1 or 2 comedy books that were successful in being a good story as well as being a comedy. I don't think there was a single time that I laughed out loud while reading this novel. Sure, some things were smirk-inducing but it kind of took away from what could have been a great story. I'll echo what other reviewers have said by pointing out that this could have been a much better novel if it were written as a drama rather than a comedy.

There were also some things that I found myself really picking apart such as the fact that this alleged genius had such a poorly-crafted scientific method in the Rosie Project that it took away a lot of the credibility for me. Also, some of the events in the story were just so over-the-top that I wanted to tear the pages out.

In the end the book was simply okay. It was mildly entertaining and readable and will likely get picked up as a romantic comedy in a big-budget movie. And quite honestly, that's where it would be better. It might even be funny as a movie. It just wasn't as a book.

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Review: My Story

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My Story
My Story by Elizabeth Smart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I began this book I set myself up for disappointment. I didn't expect to get a real, honest account of the story of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping. And for the first few chapters I found myself being proven right. The storytelling felt artificial and contrived rather than an honest, heartfelt account of the events. I decided to stick with it only because I remember this being such a huge news event that I was curious to hear Elizabeth Smart's side of the story.

As the book went on, I found myself more and more invested in the story. I began to feel her pain and fear and it finally started to be a bit more believable. The feeling that the book was written with very carefully crafted lawyer-endorsed storytelling never really left but beneath it all you couldn't help but feel brutalized with her. I wanted to jump back in time and save her from what was a very sloppy kidnapping.

I think that if the book was taken on literary merits alone, most people would be let down. It's not an incredibly well written tale and as I stated, it seems like she was describing events as if to try to convince a jury rather than as a completely open account. However, by the end of the book I was so incredibly emotionally invested and inspired that it overwhelmed my other disappointments. I'm sure that there are people who are calling Elizabeth Smart a hero and a bunch of other things after she finally made it out of her captor's grasp, but I think more accurately she is simply a victim of a terrible crime who decided to allow herself to find happiness in life rather than allowing her experiences to make her a victim for eternity. Her faith and perseverance through these events was truly inspiring and goose-pimple inducing.

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Review: Burial Rites

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Burial Rites
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel was just about perfect. There are few times you read a book and the author just completely gets it right, but this was one of those books. Burial Rites was an immensely engrossing story about Agnes Magnusdottir, a young Icelandic maid, awaiting her death sentence for the murder of two young men. Following her sentence she is sent to live in isolation on a farm to await her execution. The story follows her interactions with the family that is forced to keep her on their farm and the priest that is charged with guiding her to her death.

It is a heart-breaking novel that unravels the details of the murders and the desperation of a young girl who is hopelessly in love. The setting and storytelling feels very authentic to the time period and I was able to put myself in the minds and lives of the characters. I honestly don't know much about Iceland in the 1800s... or any other time period... but the novel presented a very mysterious country and the harshness it requires to live in a place that is so unforgiving.

I absolutely loved everything about this book. Things didn't always turn out as I wanted them to but that made the book even more perfect. Hannah Kent includes an afterword that states that the story is based on actual historic events from Icelandic history, and I felt that she did them justice. This is a must-read for lovers of historical fiction!

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The "revolution" that no one cares about and that won't change anything.

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Yesterday literally tens of Mormon women throughout the world decided that they were going to stick it to the man by organizing an event called "Wear Pants to Church Day." While this movement has far from taken off, it is turning just enough heads that it has become annoying and some people are beginning to think that it actually matters. These women have turned something that absolutely no one inside or outside of the Mormon church cares about into a perceived "gender issue." These are the s#$%-kickers of the LDS world who are under the false assumption that not wearing a dress to church is going to reform the religion.

For the most part, I don't discuss my religion online. I don't like throwing it in anyone's face and have fairly liberal views compared to many of my counterparts. I didn't vote for Romney (don't get too excited. I didn't vote for Obama either), I support the legalization of marijuana, and I don't particularly care whether the gays get married. I do, however, think that this ridiculous "revolution" has to stop.

Let me start off by explaining a few things to you. The LDS church doesn't impose any dress code or requirements for what people have to wear to church. They never have. People frequently attend church in all manner of attire depending on their circumstances. I know many doctors who attend church in scrubs when they are on call or police officers who are heading on-duty following the service so they wear their uniforms. There are also frequently visitors from outside the church who attend our meetings wearing jeans and t-shirts either because they can't afford anything nicer or because they simply didn't know what was appropriate. No one bats an eye. At least I don't.

I honestly couldn't tell you what a single person wore on Sunday, including myself. Actually scratch that, I know that Jack was wearing a baby-blue suit and I only remember that because I was gleefully reminded of Dumb and Dumber, one of the greatest movies of all time. If only he had worn a top-hat.... But let's be honest, attending church shouldn't be about adorning yourself in snazzy duds or a fashion statement of any kind. This isn't America's Next Top Model, it's church.

I can can hear the objections now: "Nay, Stewart! You are an ignoramus and you lie through your teeth! No one will believe that you aren't expected to dress a certain way in the Mormon church. I mean you guys have to wear that special underwear and stuff." And okay, I concede that there is a generally accepted rule for how people should dress.

Pay attention closely because I'm going to tell you what that rule is (this is top-secret Mormon stuff): You should wear your best clothing. Look in your closet and see what you have there. If I told you that I was throwing a fancy shin-dig and that you should wear your best do-dads, what would you be swaggering in? For most men, our best clothing is a suit and tie (or a bow-tie if you really know how to rock it), which is what most men in the church wear. For most women, their best clothing is a dress or skirt. There are also women who have a very nice business pant suit as their best outfit. Cool, wear it. I don't think anyone would notice. This concept isn't unique to the Mormon world and I really don't understand how it is sexist at all.

Think about if you went to a nice Christmas work party were the standard was 'black tie' or formal. What would the women be wearing? Sweat pants? Yoga gear? T-shirts and jeans? Well, you wouldn't be attending with me. I would be wearing my suit and a festive tie with a pocket square... possibly red underpants to match (okay, you caught me, I already pointed out that that wasn't true). My wife would be looking absolutely bangin' in a nice dress.

What I really fail to understand is what (and who) you all are fighting against? How can you be battling gender roles and the rules of dress when those rules simply don't exist. I used to fight with my imaginary friends when I was little but eventually I realized that there is no glory of giving a suplex to my imaginary friend when it's all in my head. That's exactly what this protest is.

Someone also needs to explain to me what is so terribly unnatural or uncomfortable about wearing a skirt or dress? Quite honestly I think it sounds fabulous! Winding blowing freely throughout my undercarriage.... It's practically like going naked. This would be my choice of clothing if no one would object. So, why is this handful of women so intent on shoving themselves into a significantly less comfortable alternative in the name of equal rights? If I didn't have to wear pants all day, you better believe I'd be flapping in the breeze. I could understand a bit if you were improving things for someone... but you're simply not.

So you may be wondering why I care, if these women are simply fighting an imaginary war. Well, because church isn't the place for that. In the LDS church, we consider our meetinghouse to be the house of God and our meetings are meant to be our way of worshiping Him. The way we dress and act is a reflection of our respect for the Lord and for those around us. It is not the forum for making a political statement on gender roles. Wear what you want but do it respectfully and don't bring your political agenda to a worship service.



(Not appropriate)

The other problem I have with it is that the few women who support this movement in our local congregation are not wearing nice pants that are their "Sunday best." They are wearing yoga pants and t-shirts. These are the same pants you went for a jog in yesterday and did your shopping in the day before. These women aren't poor and unable to adorn themselves in something more befitting of the occasion. They are simply lazy. If you're in my congregation and seriously can't afford a skirt or nice pair of pants so this is your excuse for wearing sweat pants for "Wear Pants to Church Day," please let me know. I am a poor medical student but will happily help you get something more appropriate for church.

If your purpose in wearing pants is to align the genders more equally, then why dress like a slob? Buy a nice pair of dress pants or a business suit and show a little bit of respect. Why not teach your kids that the house of the Lord is a place to show him respect and worship him, rather than make a statement by dressing like someone from a lululemon catalogue. Oh, no wait, I forgot, this isn't about Him, it's about you, right?

Congratulations, you have successfully helped no one and managed to look like a homeless person while doing it.

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