Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mini Reviews of Fall Reads

Lately, my reading seems to be far out-pacing my blogging, and I’m behind on writing reviews. In order to catch up a bit, I decided to post mini reviews for a few of the books I’ve read recently, so I can at least record my thoughts. I’m gradually coming to the realization, which I know some of my fellow book bloggers have discovered, that I may not be able to post a lengthy, well-considered review of every single book I read.

So here are a few thoughts about some of my recent reads this fall:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I have certainly NOT been in the market for more post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels; in fact, I am quite ready for some POST-post-apocalyptic fiction! Please, writers, please. But I decided to read Station Eleven after Mandel’s book landed on the National Book Award longlist. And I do see why this novel has received mostly flattering reviews. Mandel’s premise of a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors and musicians, moving about the countryside and performing two decades after the great flu pandemic has decimated the population, is absolutely fascinating. In fact, I wanted to hear more about the woman who established the group (the Conductor) and the other itinerant players in the Traveling Symphony. I felt like Mandel had an amazing idea but didn’t fully develop it.

Instead, she takes the story back and forth between the Traveling Symphony and the time before the flu pandemic, but to me, the sections in the novel before the flu lacked interest. The characters in the pre-flu period seem to exhibit a great deal of malaise and unhappiness; no doubt Mandel is making a point, but it doesn’t make for very gripping reading. The heart and great strength of her story, I think, lies with the players of the Traveling Symphony and their efforts to not merely survive, but to create art and beauty in a harsh and unforgiving world. These sections make the novel a worthwhile read. My rating for Station Eleven is about a 3.5 stars out of 5.

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran’s coming-of-age novel was released in August of this year, amid much fanfare (a bestseller in the UK! Gushing blurbs from Lena Dunham and Helen Fielding!). Moran, of course, is known for her essay collection, How to Be A Woman, which I have not read. How to Build A Girl was for me, a perfectly pleasant read. Sometimes I found it laugh-out-loud funny, and that is always a welcome surprise in a novel. I think, though, that perhaps the buzz for the book outpaced the novel itself, and at times I felt that the plot and characters were lacking something. I felt, too, that it seemed less like a novel than a sort of fictionalized memoir of Moran’s teen years in the 1990s. I appreciated Moran’s voice, but it didn’t quite click with me as a work of fiction—at least, not as much I had expected. I would rate it as 3 out of 5 stars, but still note that I think many readers will find it an amusing and enjoyable read.


  1. Funny - someone at the gym today told me I must read Station Eleven...now I'm reconsidering! Thanks for your candid thoughts. And - it does get hard to write a well thought out review of everything you read...for me, there are just some books I don't have much to say about (positive or negative).

    1. Well, I do see why people love it--and I did find the sections with the Traveling Symphony to be very interesting! Just not so much on the other parts. But I see this book was just made it to the shortlist for the National Book Award. I get a little obsessed with these book awards (but I often don't agree with the choices for the winners!) :)