Thursday, July 8, 2010

Double Book Review: Simone Elkeles and Tracy Chevalier

How to ruin a summer vacation. Simone Elkeles (word count 52,941). It took me about 30 pages to get into this book. At first I found the narrator’s voice too annoying. As I read more she drew me in, and within another 20 pages I was totally hooked. Of course, as you see the character’s transformation it’s clear that she was meant to be annoying in the beginning. So, this was not a product of careless work, but instead a really true and precisely drawn character. That’s awesome.

Tiny synopsis: Amy Nelson, a city girl, is asked by her mostly-absent father to live for the summer with his family in Israel. Adventure, romance, and personal growth ensue.

I really enjoyed it. You should know, I cry at the drop of a hat. It is nothing for me to get teary in the final pages of a book (or in, for example, a heartrending commercial). So crying in a book for me is not necessarily a mark of success. I cried three separate times at the end of this book. That is a mark of success. I grew to love the character of Amy, her stubbornness, her complete cluelessness, and her fierceness. I also thought Avi was the bomb (do people still say that? did they ever, really?) as a love interest. Sometimes the love interests in books are just boring or dumb for me, but Avi had it going on. He was vulnerable and sincere. Now to put on my political scientist hat (‘cause that’s what people want in a book review. The opinion of a political scientist. ha!)… I also thought the author dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an honest and thoughtful way. It’s is an enduring conflict, and the author could have easily gotten bogged down in it, or she could have ignored it. She didn’t. I felt like she addressed it in a way that worked for the book, didn’t come off as preachy, but also INFORMED the reader just a bit.

I will definitely check out more of Simone’s work. Big thumbs up.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (word count 68445)

Tiny synopsis: Griet, whose father has lost his sight in a tile-making accident, is hired to work as a maid in Vermeer’s household. She eventually becomes his assistant and muse, which endangers both her position and her reputation.

I get what the hoopla was all about now. I missed this book when it first came out. I later read another book by the author (The Lady and the Unicorn) about a tapestry. I liked the tapestry book, but I wasn’t bowled over. This book, however, was a delight. It was precise, thoughtful, and well-written. Though I lived in the NL, to say I have broad knowledge of their history would be incorrect. Even after five years in a country, you barely scratch the surface of a culture and its history. The Netherlands has such a long and distinctive history; I was not able to take it all in. So it was nice to read about daily life in the 1600s.

I like that while she created a story for the characters, she was precise in capturing the routines and daily life of the era. By this I mean she was true to history where she needed to be, and imaginative in a way that didn’t trample that.

I also thought the author captured the complex emotions of an intelligent girl, from the lower classes, with few prospects but to work as a maid. I enjoyed it, and would probably read another book by this author.


  1. I always meant to read Girl with a Pearl Earring and never did. Adding it to my list. Great reviews!

  2. How to Ruin a Summer Vacation sounds awesome! That tidbit about Avi did me in--I'm a sucker for well developed love interests. I just finished a book with a really one-dimensional boy, so now I'm craving some lit romance with a real spark. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. I havent read either of these. Have seen the movie for Girl with a pearl earring :) I liked it :)

    And, have read two other books by Elekeles. I really liked them , so I have been menaing to check out more of her work.

    Nice reviews :)


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