Book review: ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

maladies1I’m a little afraid of short stories. What I crave most in fiction is depth, characterization, richly drawn and fully fleshed-out people and places — not halved and truncated stories of people about whom I will ultimately feel nothing, if only because I never really got a chance to know them.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s stunning Interpreter of Maladies is seriously working to change my opinion.

I don’t know what took me so long to pick up this book, exactly; Lahiri’s novel The Namesake is probably my favorite book of all time. Seriously. It was the first book I set down after reading and thought, “If I’m going to be a writer, this is what I have to be. How can I be this?” And not to put a damper on my dreams, but I don’t think anyone could write like Lahiri — simultaneously combining themes of love, family, respect, devotion, rebellion, fear, desperation, loneliness and hope in, oh, twenty pages or so.

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Book review: ‘Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess’ by Meg Cabot

princess_diariesI started reading Meg Cabot’s popular Princess Diaries series when it was first published in 2000 — and I was fifteen! Through high school and college graduations, full- and part-time jobs begun and ended, a few broken hearts and a whole lot of friendships renewed and lost, I’ve stuck it out with Mia Thermopolis on her never-ending quest in wooing Michael Moscovitz, taming her unruly “triange-shaped” hair, achieving self-actualization and, ultimately, rising to power as princess of Genovia (a small, fictional European nation). Princess Amelia has nursed more than a few of her own heartbreaks, too, and it’s with a bit of sadness that I finished Cabot’s Princess Diaries, Volume X: Forever Princess, the tenth and final book in the series.

First, let me preface my review with the fact that plenty of spoilers will probably abound. I’m not sure if I can really write about my love of this book without blowing a few secrets!

A little background, especially if you’ve seen the popular film of the same name starring Anne Hathaway (which was awesome, but didn’t really parallel the book): Mia Thermopolis was just like another other teenage girl in New York City, living with her artistic mother and beloved chubster cat Fat Louie when, upon hearing of her father’s cancer scare, she was informed by her mysterious (and annoying) grandmother that she is, in fact, heir to the principality of Genovia. Her father, Prince Phillipe, is the son of the reigning monarch — Grandmere.

Mia’s having a hard enough time surviving life as a gangly, awkward high school student to actually worry about being a princess — but, much to her mother’s dismay, the truth comes out. Enter the usual angst of “oh my God, Mom and Dad, you’ve been lying to me all these years!” and you have the first book or two. Mia undergoes a serious transformation, becomes slightly more glamorous, gets into arguments with her free-spirited (and highly opinionated) best friend Lilly and tries to somehow get the attention of Lilly’s older brother, Michael.

I won’t further bore you with summaries of past books, though I loved all of them! By the time we reach Forever Princess, my most recent read, Mia is about to turn eighteen; graduate from high school; attend the senior prom; figure out whether or not she’s ready to Do It with J.P., her boyfriend of two years; get over her ex-boyfriend and first love, Michael, who has suddenly returned from a medical sabbatical in Japan; and actually choose a college to attend next year.

And, oh yeah — prepare for her official duties as princess of a small country.

img_5055 I love, love, love these books. They are, as the title suggests, Mia’s personal “diaries” — her frantic scribblings about all of the chaos erupting in her life (and there’s always chaos). I love that they feel current and in-the-moment, and that we feel, as readers, that we’ve literally stumbled across her personal journals. There’s nothing pretentious about these books; they’re completely devoid of any self-consciousness, too. They’re just pure, unadulterated fun — and books in which I totally lose myself.

In this, the tenth installment of Mia’s adventures, she has definitely grown up — and the world around her has totally changed, too. Gone are the “handwritten” notes passed between Shameeka, Tina, Mia, Lilly and Lana — they’re all texting from their cell phones and BlackBerries now. The ninth book in the series chronicles her life as a sophomore, and now we’re dropped right into the end of her senior year. Though it surprised me a bit at first, this absolutely worked for me. While Cabot’s audience has aged considerably since the series began, Mia herself had not. She’s finally catching up with us and dealing with very relatable issues: choosing a profession, a home, a lover. Along that vein, the books absolutely feel real to me. I’ve always related to Mia’s plight and adventures, and I ran through this 400-page book in a little more than a day. It had wide margins, mind you, but with the exception of the Harry Potter and Twilight books, hardly anything is able to keep my prolonged, obsessive attention for that long.

As Mia makes decisions regarding her relationships, both romantic and familial, writes a romance novel (Ransom My Heart — smokin’!) and begins to plot out the rest of her life, I was right there with her. I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like about this book, and about the way the series ended . . . Cabot did a masterful job. Though life-long best friends, Lilly and Mia still had to take some time apart to realize how — and why — they’d been depending on each other, and Mia needed to spend time in a relationship with someone else to realize how much she truly loved Michael. His reappearance in the novel was like Edward showing up in New Moon — you knew it was coming, but it still took your breath away when it finally did! I was excited. I laughed and, yes, I cried.

And in the final chapter of our journey with her, Mia is all grown up — and I guess I’m getting there, too. But we sure had a heck of a run together. By the end of Forever Princess, I was definitely teary-eyed — she made the right choices. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061232920 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Diary
Personal copy purchased by Meg

write meg!’s 2008 reading honors

write meg!
2008 reading honors


Another fabulous reading year has come and gone, and it’s always great to reflect on times past and present! I found some great new authors this year, spent a ton of time with Edward Cullen and Bella Swann, discovered the simultaneous awesomeness and craziness of BookMooch and LibraryThing, started my little book/life blog and have stayed up way too late wrapping up novel after novel.

And in honor of the overall bookishness that was 2008, I now present the write meg! 2008 honors! Yes, I know — incredibly exciting! I should have made some little graphics or something, but unfortunately time has been scarce. Perhaps for 2009?


Fastest Read

Cracked Up To Be, Courtney Summers

A fast-paced, surprising and poignant young adult read, I finished this one in a matter of hours.

Runner-up: The Solomon Sisters Wise Up, Melissa Senate

This chick lit book had me captivated from day one: three sisters, a lifetime of distance and a few weeks to make up for it. Great read.

Funniest Read

Marley & Me, John Grogan

Grogan’s story of the wily, “worst dog” in the country and his tender family had me laughing — and crying — the whole time.

Longest Read

Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

The fourth tome in Meyer’s Twilight series packed in the plot — and page count. It totaled nearly 700 pages but had me running through it like water.

Brain-Hurting Read

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, Ann Herendeen

This historical romance couldn’t keep my brain from going into overdrive — the language was antiquated, the plot quite disorienting. I wanted to like it — and tried valiantly to — but couldn’t quiet my headache long enough to really enjoy it.

Most Poignant Read

The Longest Trip Home, John Grogan

Any child will relate to Grogan’s story of rebellion and redemption — and the ultimate power and grace of family. Grogan appears on my list twice — lucky man!

Best Read Outside My Comfort Zone

Maus, Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman’s classic graphic novel following his parents’ experience and ultimate escape from the Nazi regime was spell-binding. As a total graphic novel newbie dating a graphic novel expert, I was hesitant to try this one — but was very pleasantly surprised.

Most Addictive Book Series

The Twilight Series, Stephenie Meyer

Okay, no real surprise here. They might not be the most eloquent, well-written books around (yeah, they’re not), but the story of a difficult, brooding vampire and his mortal lady love had me carrying the books around in my beach bag nonstop. Great books to get lost in — and continue to enjoy discussing after the fact. My sister’s on Eclipse right now!

Biggest Disappointment

Remember Me?, Sophie Kinsella

After enjoying Kinsella’s Shopaholic series and other works, I expected something more than the trite and unappealing Remember Me? Good thing it was an ARC.

And, finally . . .

write meg!’s Top Read of 2009

Belong To Me, Marisa de los Santos

An absolute master of language, De los Santos penned two fabulous books in Love Walked In and Belong To Me. I actually enjoyed this sequel more than the original, though Belong To Me can certainly be enjoyed on its own. Boiling over with beautiful imagery and caricatures as well as love, grief and ultimately hope, I had a difficult time putting this one down — and never wanted it to end.

Book review: ‘Joy School’ by Elizabeth Berg

joy_school In Elizabeth Berg’s 1997 novel Joy School, we meet (or are reintroduced) to Katie, a thirteen-year-old Texas transplant battling her grief at the loss of her mother and the complexities of growing up under her dictatorial father. Unbeknownst to me, Joy School is actually a follow-up to Berg’s Durable Goods — but I read the book as a stand-alone and enjoyed it without completely knowing the back story. It definitely comes across.

Katie is living in Missouri with her dad, housekeeper Ginger and her dog. Her older sister Diane has run off to Mexico (not sure where that plotline came from, precisely) with a boyfriend and not kept in much contact with Katie. She seems isolated, utterly alone — detached from the entire world around her. Waiting patiently for a letter day in and day out from friend Cherylanne, Katie begins to look to her few friends as mother figures, carefully following their advice on kissing, dressing and general behavior. Katie seems lost.

And then she meets Jimmy, a 23-year-old man who works at a nearby gas station, reads literature and enjoys playing checkers with Katie. After she falls and crashes through the ice while skating at a neighboring pond, Jim offers her his jacket, helps her warm up — and changes Katie’s life forever. She’s instantly smitten, hopes against hope that Jim could someday return her affections and . . . of course, he can’t. It’s all innocence and friendship. Isn’t it?

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Bookshelf update


My bookshelf is more organized than it has been in forever! Mostly because I have this on the floor nearby:


But it feels good to have it mostly separated out. The above shot is part of my “to be read” stack, while the bookshelf contains only my beloved, finished novels. I’m in the middle of Elizabeth Berg’s Joy School now . . . I’ll hopefully have that finished tonight with a review to come later in the weekend. We’ll see how ugly the weather is, and whether or not it all keeps me house-bound!

Book review: ‘A Little Ray of Sunshine’ by Lani Diane Rich

little_ray_sunshine Former child star Lilly Lorraine spent most of her life ignoring and mocking her only daughter Emmy James, a young woman who has grown up to doubt her ability both to love and be loved — unconditionally. As a young woman, EJ leaves her small Oregon town with a big, burdensome secret on her back, traveling across the country in a silver Airstream trailer and avoiding the consequences of a choice she made six years earlier. It’s only with the appearance of Jess, an “angel” who magically drops into her life at a gas station, that she begins to heal. The angel with her own secret convinces EJ it’s time to return home and deal with news brought to her by a childhood friend — and begin to understand, and possibly forgive, her estranged mother.

Lani Diane Rich’s A Little Ray of Sunshine is designed around EJ’s narrative voice, but it’s really the story of friendships lost and found, relationships restored, and that big-time, cheesy and unconditional familial love. And I love books like this! I’m huge on family dynamics — examining the interplay between parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. A Little Ray of Sunshine is the perfect opportunity to drop in and watch all of these issues play out carefully.

Along with the interplay between all of the complicated, fully-developed characters, we get a pretty strong glimpse into the world of Lilly Lorraine, the America’s one-time childhood sweetheart (a la Shirley Temple). Each chapter of the novel is preceded by a letter, quote or other bit of information from Lilly (and, later, from EJ) explaining some tidbit of her relationship with her daughter or herself. I loved these openings — they provided so much insight into why Lilly could have possibly been so unfeeling to EJ growing up. It didn’t justify it, but it did help make both EJ and I understand.

Of course, we have to take into account that our narrator was a vulnerable child when Lilly first began abandoning her for husbands three, four, five, six . . . and so on. But I’m willing to side with EJ and say that while her mother may have, at one point, had decent intentions of raising her child, she definitely failed her by simply not being there. But Lilly’s character in the present day was full of enough surprises to keep me turning the pages quickly. And watching her reconnect with Danny, the man she has long considered to be like a father, was pretty moving.

There were huge unanswered questions looming over most of the novel, and I’m happy to say Rich effectively resolved the loose ends by the conclusion. Full of humorous scenes and colorful imagery, it was hard to put this one down. I loved watching EJ reconcile with the people who used to love her most in the entire world — and still do.

My only gripe? Some of the conversation seemed stunted and unnatural — especially when the characters were discussing the painful, hard truths of the past. The “emotional” scenes seemed particularly . . . melodramatic? But I tried to bear in mind that these talks, especially between Lilly and EJ, were a lifetime in the making.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451222962 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg