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Reviews Written by
Meg Cox "journalist/author/quilter" RSS Feed (Princeton, New Jersey USA)

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I Am China: A Novel
I Am China: A Novel
by Xiaolu Guo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.59
82 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Not Without Flaws, But A Powerful Tale of A Modern Chinese Rebel, October 23, 2014
This review is from: I Am China: A Novel (Hardcover)
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This book felt disjointed at times and awkwardly paced, but as I got deeper into the characters, I was racing to the end to learn their fates. The translator character, Iona, was less interesting to me than the two Chinese characters. She seemed too passive in her life, and to serve mainly as a lens through which a Western reader could view the mysterious lovers: she could explain their cultural context.
That said, I recommend the book for its insights into life in China and for patches of quite powerful writing. I don't think I will quickly forget the rebellious Chinese musician Kublai Jian. The author tells his story by bouncing between translations of diaries and letters written by Jian and his lover Mu, mixed with third-person narration. But on the whole, she does manage to create a distinctive voice for him, and a fascinating past.
While not as visceral and compelling a book as the novel The Orphan Master's Son, this is still very well worth reading. And I think it would be a terrific choice for book groups.

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel
We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel
by Matthew Thomas
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.41
313 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes! It's Even Better Than The Critics Say, October 14, 2014
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I have been inhabiting this novel for days, like a shadow life, but I stayed up until 4 am and finished it. I'm always afraid to read a book this praised in advance, for fear it can never possibly live up to the hype, but this wonderful novel exceeded every expectation for me.

In a certain way, this is a very old-fashioned novel, a front porch close-up view of a generation in one family as children grow, decades pass and passions weaken. There are alcoholic Irish characters whose neighborhoods are seen as deteriorating when the next wave of immigrants come. But the nuance in the characters and the emotional closeness feels shocking partly because the writing is so visceral, and because author Matthew Thomas gets so many things right about family ties, the arc of a career, and the desperate need to put on a good front at both home and work.

I didn't know until after I finished that Matthew Thomas' own father was also a professor who suffered early Alzheimer's, and that helps explain the gut-punching effectiveness of his unflinching picture of a brilliant mind in crisis and the effect on a family.

There are times when this book is very hard to read, and times when it builds somewhat slowly. But I urge you to read it. And I wish for Matthew Thomas a long and prolific writing life. His father would be so proud.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A novel
The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A novel
by Richard Flanagan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.69
228 used & new from $0.30

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book As Cruel As Life, And You Can't Look Away, August 4, 2014
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I'm not generally a big reader of war-themed novels, but this book transcends that description. Though much of the action is set on the Burma to Siam railroad known as the "Railway of Death," with a group of Australian POWs who are starving, diseased and beaten as they attempt this impossible construction task, this is a book about life, not war.

The book is very hard to read at times because of the brutality and despair throughout. But it is so beautifully written, sentence by sentence, that I couldn't put it down.

One unusual aspect of The Narrow Road to the Deep North is that Flanagan doesn't just give us a window into the Australian main character's mind, but also into the cruel Japanese camp leaders' lives and loves after the war ends.

In many ways, it's the story of an ordinary man in extraordinary times, who rises to a difficult situation in a way that seems heroic to some. But he knows better. Life beats us down, but life is worth living is one message of the book. This book will break your heart, but also make you think -- and appreciate how truly fine writing can lift us up above the muck.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel
by Chris Bohjalian
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.65
181 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual Coming-of-Age Story Worth Reading, July 23, 2014
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I struggled against this book. At first, the voice of the teenage girl didn't feel authentic. But once I just let go, especially in the final third of the novel, I found myself very moved by the situation, the lead character and the writing. It gathered force.

I have never read Bohjalian before and I don't know if this is typical, but as I said, the beginning felt a little schematic to me: take the horrific situation of a nuclear disaster, add a screwed-up teen, throw her out on the streets and in with a bad crowd, give her bad habits like self-cutting, and give her a literary obsession, in this case, with Emily Dickinson. Oh, and throw in a cute 9-year-old boy who is a DIY wonder with duct tape.

To his credit, the "happy" ending still leaves her with a great deal of healing to do, and a pretty alarming black cloud of radiation hanging over her future. But you really feel like she's come out the other side, and despite her heap of hellacious losses, stands some chance of reaching her potential.

The Accursed: A Novel
The Accursed: A Novel
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.34
94 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Readers Are Right About This Book, The Raving Critics are Not, June 22, 2014
This review is from: The Accursed: A Novel (Paperback)
I think I enjoyed this novel much more than many of the readers who found it tough sledding, but part of my enjoyment came as a result of having lived in Princeton for the past 20 years. It was really entertaining to read about the palatial homes of still-famous families in the part of the town that is still fancy, while hearing of now-developed areas described as farmland and wilderness. Some of the shops and institutions, in both the town and the college, still stand. My husband and I were married in the garden of the house where Woodrow Wilson lived when he was president of the college (it's now a faculty club.)

My principal delight in The Accursed was reading Oates' portrayal of such historic figures as Upton Sinclair and Jack London. She had me looking up all sorts of incidents about them and Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland to separate fact from fantasy, but they were such interesting figures that the side trips were very worthwhile.

I agree with others who have said the book could have been more tightly edited. Sections about many characters went on too long but some of the set pieces, like Todd's game of draughts in the evil Bog Kingdom were beautifully done, and suspenseful.

This wasn't quite the page-turner I expected after reading the ecstatic reviews of Stephen King and others, but I am glad I put in the time.

American Romantic
American Romantic
by Ward S. Just
Edition: Hardcover
83 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Novel From A Fine Writer, June 19, 2014
This review is from: American Romantic (Hardcover)
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Throughout Ward Just's long distinguished list of publications, runs a theme: American supremacy is more fragile than it seems and the lives of those who guide the ship of state are as human as anybody else. His characters make us think "that is what it must be like to be at the center of things."
And like America's triumphs, their lives are filled with passions and disappointments, while their successes somehow fall just short.
Just is surely one of the best author's we have: he not only commands our attention, he makes us feel smarter than we were before we started the book.
American Romantic captures the idealism of those who set out int he 50s and '60s to insure the legacies of the second world war, and to contain the dangers of the Cold War. The fact that they succeeded so well is often lost because so many lives were shattered and dreams were crushed. Once you get a feel for where Just is taking you, the reader simply can't put the book down, so set aside 24 hours to live within his grip.

Americanah (Ala Notable Books for Adults)
Americanah (Ala Notable Books for Adults)
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.48
104 used & new from $3.32

5.0 out of 5 stars A First-Rate Novel, and a Writer to Watch, June 1, 2014
I liked this even more than her novel "Half of a Yellow Son,' which is a terrific book.
It may sound trendy and schematic that the main character blogs about race in America, but it really works because she is a full and fascinating character, and her comments about race in America are fresh and thought-provoking. She gives us a look at ourselves that we don't usually see, and while she is negative about some aspects of American life, it seems the character, and author, saves the harshest criticism for her native country of Nigeria.
This book has so much to offer, including the central romance. It feels immediate and very real, including the character's experience of Obama's first presidential campaign.
I'll be eager to see what she writes next, and I predict this novel will be made into a movie, as was the first.

Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty
Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty
by Diane Keaton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.05
305 used & new from $0.01

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Largely a Waste of Time and Talent, May 11, 2014
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I'm in the pro-Diane Keaton camp as far as her movie career, and I've always loved her proudly eccentric fashion sense.
I have not read her earlier memoir, but I came to this book expecting and hoping to like it a lot.

What I found was, as the title puts it, not a pretty picture. This is a disjointed, repetitive series of short essays, mostly about her family life, her fear of aging and lifelong dissatisfaction with her looks. There is almost a bloggish quality to the writing, with multiple mentions of how much she loves Pinterest and renovating houses but very little of sustained analysis or deep reflection.

The takeaway is that she has a low sense of self-esteem but loves her adopted kids, and if you want to get your turtleneck sweaters to stand up stiffly and cover your ugly neck, sew stays into the seams. And, Al Pacino was enigmatic and Keaton could never get him to love her back.

She starts and ends with contemplating the definition of beauty in popular culture, and some of the best writing is about iconoclasts like Diana Vreeland, people Keaton admired but couldn't emulate. The other writing in the book that moved me deeply was about her parents and their relationship, and she saves the best for last: a poignant journal entry of her mother's, about taking a shower with her father shortly before his death.

Otherwise, shame on you Random House for charging $26 for this 188-page flimsy excuse for a memoir.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2015 4:57 PM PDT

How to Plant a Tree: A Simple Celebration of Trees and Tree-Planting Ceremonies
How to Plant a Tree: A Simple Celebration of Trees and Tree-Planting Ceremonies
by Daniel Butler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.72
54 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Package But I Hoped for More Ceremonies, April 29, 2014
This is a sweet and beautifully made book, but note the trim size: it is quite small and skinny.

That said, the illustrations are lovely and there is a great deal of sound advice. As someone who writes about family traditions and celebrations, I love the concept of planting trees for all sorts of life's milestones. Author Daniel Butler does a great job of suggesting good occasions for tree-planting, from weddings and new homes to new beginnings and retirements. He also advocates planting a tree as a living memorial to someone who has passed on. For these occasions, he makes specific suggestions about appropriate types of trees to plant -- such as a pear tree for an engagement.

However, I was really hoping for details of a ritual nature: words to say and additional activities to do while planting these trees. I interviewed a family where each child plants a tree on Arbor Day and then follows those trees, recording their growth etc. year by year in some sort of journal.

Still, there is a lot of wonderful sidebar advice, like how to attract wildlife to your trees, and this would make a lovely gift itself, as well as inspiring meaningful tree plantings. It's a practice that I hope grows as people discover this book. This has definitely inspired me to plant more trees!

Jouer Crème Eyeshadow Crayon, Baroque
Jouer Crème Eyeshadow Crayon, Baroque
Price: $24.00
2 used & new from $24.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Creamy, Easy to Apply, Don't Love This Color, April 29, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a brilliant idea for applying eye shadow. It comes out creamy and shiny and smooth, and the applicator works better than those tiny, messy brushes.
It does seem to last well.

I would try a different color though: the Baroque shade which is a kind of bronze color, is quite subtle. If that is what you seek, get this one. For myself, I think I would try one of the more distinctive colors.

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