In my ongoing quest to read all the books, here are my latest accomplishments for July.
1. Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
If you haven't read a Bill Bryson book, you probably should do something about that. Notes is the humorous recounting of Bryson's semi-farewell trip to Great Britain. As much as I did enjoy it, I wouldn't recommend it as a first encounter with Bryson. True, it has its startling laugh-out-loud moments (notably his story about the notoriously dry, self-deprecating humor of Brits), but I felt it somewhat lacked the heart and hilarious soul of some of his other works. It is certainly more the work of someone coming to terms with the fact that he is leaving what has become his home, for better or for worse.
Personally, I adored The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (though I could be biased, given my affinity for all things 50s and 60s), and was fascinated and highly entertained by At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Both had me laughing out loud through their entirety, in spite of the fact that the latter is nothing but a long, glorified history of how houses came to be as we know them today. Sounds dull. Isn't.
I gave it three stars. If Goodreads did half stars, it would have gotten three and a half.
2. How to Be Good, by Nick Hornby
How to Be Good tells the story of a not-so-good wife who suddenly finds her husband has undergone a spiritual conversion and must now "be good." At first, I thought I would enjoy this book a lot. As tends to be the case with me and the books I choose to read, it seemed to have often-creepy correlations with my own life. But, as it spiraled further into the frustrating-though-understandable territory of should-I-stay-or-should-I-go, I kindof... stopped caring. None of the characters were very likable. Most were astoundingly stupid. I know that's a modern fiction trope, but I usually don't care much for it.
While I entirely related to the main character's crisis and indecision and waffling, there was something missing that allowed me to stop caring what happened to any of them. Possibly I just disliked the fact that she stayed in her unhappy marriage because of guilt and for lack of any better option. And the general stupidity of most of the characters.
I gave it three stars, due to the fact that I liked the fist portion a lot more than the end.
3. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies, by Laura Esquivel
This tells the story of several sisters and their triumphs and failures in love and food. The central story is a entirely frustrating love triangle (which turns in to a love square? love rectangle? love parallelogram?)
And? It's magical realism.
God, I really hate magical realism. I'm sorry, but I generally find it completely distracting. A perfectly good story is being told, completely with delicious-sounding recipes, and then suddenly BAM! a character is so consumed by unexpressed desire that she sets the shower on fire, and runs out naked, only to have a soldier (who ran off in the middle of a skirmish because he could sense this red-hot desire), scoop her up on horseback and carry her off into the sunset while making love mid-gallop.
What? What? No.
To be fair, I don't mind a bit of magical realism. I don't mind when a character's grief while preparing a meal cause everyone who eats it to cry. That I can handle. But I really couldn't handle most of the magical elements of this book, particularly the end. I don't want to spoil anything, but I have three words: death by orgasm.
Obviously, it all went way beyond my suspension of disbelief capabilities.
Which is sad, because I really enjoyed other aspects of it. I loved how the recipes were incorporated into the story. I loved the monthly installment aspect. I hated who Tita chose to be with, in the end. As in, so mad I almost threw the book down.
To continue the trend, I gave this book three stars as well.