Surznick Reads: March 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Monday, March 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: March 2014

It's that time again! This was a great month of reading for both of us! I can't believe that between concerts, trips, and St. Patrick's Day festivities we were able to squeeze in a bunch of reading too. Here are our March books!

Sarah's Reads!

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.
From "In this novel rich in character, Junior Thibodeau grows up in rural Maine in a time of Atari, baseball cards, pop Catholicism, and cocaine. He also knows something no one else knows-neither his exalted parents, nor his baseball-savant brother, nor the love of his life (she doesn't believe him anyway): The world will end when he is thirty-six. While Junior searches for meaning in a doomed world, his loved ones tell an all-American family saga of fathers and sons, blinding romance, lost love, and reconciliation-culminating in one final triumph that reconfigures the universe. A tour de force of storytelling, Everything Matters! is a genre-bending potpourri of alternative history, sci-fi, and the great American tale in the tradition of John Irving and Margaret Atwood."

It took me awhile to get interested in this book (I actually finished two other books while also reading this one), but when it was all said and done, I liked it. The story is told from several different perspectives and it spans 36 years, so sometimes it isn't clear how much time has passed between each chapter. This made it a little difficult for me to understand what was going on at first, but once I really got invested in the story, the timeline didn't matter anymore. I'd recommend it!

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
From "Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death..."

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. It was heart wrenching to read at times, knowing the outcome. I was surprised to learn how the families living in the "Secret Annex" led somewhat regular lives (i.e. cooking, cleaning, schooling, etc.) I always visualized it differently in my head and until reading this book and learning about the Frank family, I didn't realize what life in the annex was actually like. It was inspiring to read Anne's diary, which was surprisingly happy given the circumstances. I can't imagine ever being in her situation and still being a happy teenager. I'm sure many of you have already read this, but if you haven't, it's a must-read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
From "Famed Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon answers an unexpected summons to appear at the U.S. Capitol Building. His planned lecture is interrupted when a disturbing object—artfully encoded with five symbols—is discovered in the building. Langdon recognizes in the find an ancient invitation into a lost world of esoteric, potentially dangerous wisdom. When his mentor Peter Solomon—a longstanding Mason and beloved philanthropist—is kidnapped, Langdon realizes that the only way to save Solomon is to accept the mystical invitation and plunge headlong into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and one inconceivable truth..."

I'm a sucker for Robert Langdon. This is the third book in the Robert Langdon series (Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code being the first two) and it is wonderful, as expected. These books are so easy to read, but they HOOK you (... I mean, this book is like 630 pages and I read it in less than a week). Once again Langdon is off on an unexpected adventure that has your mind going crazy trying to figure out what is going to happen next. The story is full of patterns and puzzles and it's so satisfying to get to the end and see how everything worked out. If you haven't read any of these books before, definitely do yourself a favor and read Angels & Demons and I'm sure you'll become just as addicted as I am.

My Rating: 5 Stars

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell
From "Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the crumbling Glendoveer mansion, home to a magician's widow, a cage full of exotic birds, and a decades-old mystery. Clara loves old Mrs. Glendoveer, but the birds in the aviary frighten her—they always seem to screech and squall whenever she's near. And then one day, the mynah bird speaks, and a mystery starts to unravel. Clara discovers dark secrets about the family, and about her own past. Somehow the birds in the aviary seem to be at the center of it all, and Clara can't shake the feeling that they are trying to tell her something..."

This was my March book club selection. As I was reading, I wasn't really sure why they chose this for an adult book club. The recommended age range is 8-12 years and it's pretty obvious when reading it (I later found out our club reader picked it because it was free on her Kindle). Don't get me wrong - this book was not bad, it's just not something I would typically read as an adult. There's still a mystery there that triggers some interest and makes you want to know how the story will end. Definitely a good choice for a younger reader!

My Rating: 3 Stars

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
From "Meet Martin, JJ, Jess, and Maureen. Four people who come together on New Year's Eve: a former TV talk show host, a musician, a teenage girl, and a mother. Three are British, one is American. They encounter one another on the roof of Topper's House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives. In four distinct and riveting first-person voices, Nick Hornby tells a story of four individuals confronting the limits of choice, circumstance, and their own mortality. This is a tale of connections made and missed, punishing regrets, and the grace of second chances. Intense, hilarious, provocative, and moving, A Long Way Down is a novel about suicide that is, surprisingly, full of life."

Dang. I loved this book. I honestly didn't know what it was even about before I sat down to read it. The only reason it made it on my want-to-read list was because I saw it on a Buzzfeed list of "Books to Read Before the Movie Versions Come Out this Year" and I found it at Goodwill for 99 cents. But I'm elated that these circumstances put the book in my hands. Yes, this book is about suicide, but it is not sad. It is hilarious and so incredibly relatable (not in a bad way). I love that the story is told from 4 different perspectives. Each have their own personality and add so much to this story. If you're going to pick any book that I reviewed this month to read, pick this one. You won't regret it. Or, if you'd prefer to just watch the movie, I guess you can do that too. It stars Aaron Paul, so if you're a Breaking Bad fan, that might be a selling point. Moral of the story is that this book is great and I may have found a new favorite author. I just learned that Nick Hornby also wrote An Education, which is one of my favorite movies ever, so... I'm off to read everything else he's ever written. Bye!

My Rating: 5 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Again, I'm sure you don't need the Amazon summary for this one. It's HARRY POTTER.

This seven book series is easily one of (if not THE) largest endeavors of my reading career. That being said, it is incredibly bittersweet for it to have ended recently. The books were amazing. I know many people are divided on the Harry Potter subject, and to that, all I can say is: just try them. Read them. They are so popular for a reason. The finale of the series was nothing short of incredible. I loved every minute of all seven books, and it ended flawlessly. Five stars to the book, five stars to the whole series.

My Rating: 5 Stars

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
From "Therapist Victoria Vick is contacted by a cryptic, unlikable man who insists his situation is unique and unfathomable. As he slowly reveals himself, Vick becomes convinced that he suffers from a complex set of delusions: Y__, as she refers to him, claims to be a scientist who has stolen cloaking technology from an aborted government project in order to render himself nearly invisible. He says he uses this ability to observe random individuals within their daily lives, usually when they are alone and vulnerable. Unsure of his motives or honesty, Vick becomes obsessed with her patient and the disclosure of his increasingly bizarre and disturbing tales. Over time, it threatens her career, her marriage, and her own identity."

I have read some of Klosterman's non-fiction material in the past, and absolutely loved it. He is hilarious, smart, and incredibly entertaining. The Visible Man, being a work of fiction, was new territory for me, and it was amazing. In my head, I literally declared it my favorite book of all time (until I read the next book on my March list and it was dethroned.) The entire book is in the form of transcripts between therapy patient and therapist. It is a mysterious, hysterical plot that leaves a ton up to the reader's imagination. That, perhaps is why I liked it so much. Even after it ended, (though it had a very satisfying ending) I still had reason to second guess my notions and doubt the validity of the entire story. It really got my brain working, and for that, it is a must-read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
From "There's been a timequake. And everyone—even you—must live the decade between February 17, 1991 and February 17, 2001 over again. The trick is that we all have to do exactly the same things as we did the first time—minute by minute, hour by hour, year by year, betting on the wrong horse again, marrying the wrong person again. Why? You'll have to ask the old science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout. This was all his idea."

Here we go. Vonnegut, generally regarded as my favorite author, has outdone himself in my eyes. This work, from beginning to end is perfect. I have never laughed so hard at a book, taken so many pictures of the pages to remember the quotes, dog-eared so many chapters, scribbled down so many priceless sayings, etc. I don't always feel that I will re-read a book after I'm finished, but I am 100% certain that this is a book I will read again and again. All the great "Vonnegut-isms" that you can gleam from his other works are all right here. He boils down all of his opinions, views, and theories, and hands them straight to you. For anyone who says they love Vonnegut, this is a must-read. For anyone who is able to read, this is a must-read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sarah & Nick


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