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It’s been several months since I’ve done a reading post, so I feel a little rusty (and a little guilty that I haven’t been reading as much as I feel I “should” be). But I have read some pretty decent reads lately, so I figured I’d pass some along.

Key to Rating System:
5 stars = changed my life
4 stars = loved it
3 stars = liked it
2 stars = it was okay
1 star = hated it

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

This book is on my 100-Most-Recommended-Classics list, but it’s not nearly as daunting or unintelligible as some of the choices (probably because it was published just a few decades ago, as opposed to during the 19th century). The plot is set in South Africa and is largely about racial divisions and familial love. Basically the story is that a well-respected religious leader’s son is found guilty of murder, and it’s about how that leader heals and forgives and moves on.

Overall, there is some beautiful prose in this book–I like how the beginning and end are framed around almost identical paragraphs, but you look at those same paragraphs so differently by the ending. For a classic, this is about as quick and easy a read as they probably come (not to mention enjoyable). Plus there are some poignant philosophies on race and human nature throughout—so many, in fact, that I had to start highlighting and marking them because I loved them that much.

Overall Score: 4 stars (out of 5)
Cleanliness: It’s been awhile since I read this, but from what I remember, it’s pretty clean. There is some violence and sex, but it’s usually implied rather than explicit.

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

A bunch of my students were reading this Newbery Award winner for their historical fiction book project, so I figured I’d better read it first to make sure they weren’t making stuff up. Basically the book is a collection of short stories set over a series of summers during the Great Depression. It follows two kids (a boy and a girl) as they go to visit their somewhat eccentric grandmother each summer out in the country.

Although the book isn’t as “meaty” as I usually prefer my books, reading this felt like a light snack, and I still remember some of the stories from it vividly, even a few months later. More than anything, this is a fun read that’s largely about making the most of your circumstances and not always going with the flow of what everyone else is doing.

Overall Score: 3 stars (out of 5)
Cleanliness: This one was squeaky clean—I would recommend it to anyone, including children.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This bestseller had been sitting on my shelf for over a year until I picked it up, and I’m sorry I didn’t pick it up sooner–it tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their marriage and story, and it follows her thoughts and feelings as her husband gets more and more wrapped up in the world of expatriate Paris, and she feels more and more isolated from her husband’s group of artists, models, and writers.

The writing in this is lovely, and I got immediately caught up in the world of 1920’s Paris and all the American writers who were living out there at the time. This is a great read that you’ll have a hard time putting down after you’ve picked it up.

I will say this though—although I loved the rest of the book, I was less than impressed with the ending. I’ll leave it at that.

Overall Score: 4 stars (out of 5)
Cleanliness: This had a little bit of language and explicit sex in it, from what I remember. They weren’t in there very often, but they were in there.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

This long-awaited fictional debut by the author of Eat Pray Love had been screaming at me from all the magazines and newspapers—it seemed like everyone was reviewing it and loving it, and I just didn’t want to be left out. The story basically follows a woman raised by a botanist who becomes passionately interested in studying mosses (in an age where women were typically not making contributions to the scientific world). One of the biggest conflicts of the story is of her love life that always seems destined to fail and disappoint her.

I’ll try not to go into too much detail here (in case anyone still wants to read it), but I have to say, I was hugely disappointed in this book. While I will always love Gilbert’s writing style, the book felt VERY long-winded (it was over 500 pages, after all), and I hated how the majority of the book was focused around the main character’s obsession with sex. There were SO many awkward-to-read parts in this, and throughout the book, I kept thinking that Gilbert was taking the motto to “Write honestly” a little too far.

I would not recommend this book to anyone–even the exquisite prose was not enough to save this one for me.

Overall Score: 2 stars (out of 5)
Cleanliness: This book has a LOT of sex–explicit and implied–as well as some language. Tread carefully.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Oddly enough, I actually saw the movie of this before reading the book, which is not typical Torrie behavior. I actually had no desire to read this trilogy at all, but when I saw the movie (and really liked it!), I figured I’d better give the series a try.

Rough plotline of book = a dystopian society where people are sorted according to ability + lots of action + a love story + complex villains that aren’t all bad

Although the writing isn’t anything too special, this was a fun read. Some of the descriptions were a bit sparse, so I had to go back and re-read parts to make sure I understood what was happening, and I didn’t care as much about the characters as, say, in the Harry Potter books, but this was an enjoyable read. (Hint: I liked it enough that I’m almost finished with the second one now.)

Overall, it was kind of nice to read the book so I could participate in the hype over the movie.

That’s all.

Overall Score: 3 stars (out of 5)
Cleanliness: There is quite a bit of violence in these books, but it’s not too explicit (until you see the movie, of course…)

Have you had a chance to read any of these? And have you seen the Divergent movie yet? What did you think?

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