I'm not really much of a short story person. I'd always prefer reading a novel. In fact, I didn't actually know this was fiction until I reached the beginning of the second story!! (Yes, I know it says "Stories" on the front!)
My first exposure to Liz Prato was when I heard her read at a book launch for Brave on the Page, an anthology of essays by and interviews with Oregon writers, in which my husband was also featured. Her autobiographical piece immediately drew me in....full of stark, gut-wrenching detail. I knew she was a writer to watch.
...So I was excited to read Baby's On Fire, the first book she's written (and I didn't know it was short stories). You know you've found a good short story, when you wish it were a novel...and that's how I felt about many of these stories.
One thread runs through these stories: the characters have been scarred by tough times. In the title story, for example, the unemployed, depressed main character arrives home in Portland to discover her family's house had been burned to the ground.
Two other sad stories in particular made me want more: "The Adventures of a Maya Queen" and Riding to the Shore," interestingly, both involving cancer. And one story, "Covered in Red Dirt," takes place in Hawaii, always an intriguing setting for me.
In each story, Prato paints a beautiful, if sometimes heart-breaking, picture of lives lived hard and people who have been through the wars. She too has survived more than one heart should bear, and it shows in her work. A person who hasn't experienced deep losses could not write like this and could not represent these characters' lives and thoughts so well.
Multnomah County Library named Baby's on Fire as one of its best books of 2015. I feel fortunate to know such a talented writer who creates touching stories that stick with you for days....more
I checked this historical novel out of the library because I actually knew a woman who grew up in Oklahoma with Native American roots. She, like Maud Nail, was a spirited spitfire! And she too often found herself dependent on men, much to her chagrin.
Maud lives with two incompetent men...her father is an alcoholic wanderer with a temper, and her brother is a troubled dreamer. Maud essentially keeps their homestead going.
When a peddler stops by, Maud's life changes...not only her own circumstances, but also that of her father and brother. She is a free-spirited heroine of the midwest. I didn't always agree with her decisions, but I enjoyed reading about her adventures....more
A Gesture Life is another book that was really hard to get into, but the patience paid off. If it hadn't been a book group selection, I might not have stuck with it.
Franklin Hata was a man who was difficult to admire or respect, because he seemed cold and heartless. His stilted relationship with his adopted daughter Sunny just made me sad. He had a chronic difficulty in relating to anyone on a deep, true level.
Presumably, this was because of his difficult experiences in the war and his obsession with K, a Korean "comfort woman." The storyline about the comfort women made me truly sick to my stomach. Apparently when Chang-Rae Lee began writing this novel, it was going to be all about comfort women, but he found that to be too heavy of a subject. His obsession with K reminded me of the foreign men I knew in Japan who were obsessed with Japanese women...many of them ended up marrying them and staying in Japan. They were drawn to them because they were less likely to challenge them than western women. They liked the way the Japanese women looked up to them. Often, these men would not have been classified as "catches" in the US or UK. These relationships were not very equal.
That is the relationship between Franklin and K. He thinks he loves her, but she only views him as one more man who is taking advantage of her. In his case, perhaps he can help her a little. But he means nothing to her.
I appreciated this book more after discussing it with my book group. Some of them liked it better than I did, and one of my friends observed that perhaps it was the way she had been raised, with more distant parenting. That could be.
It was beautifully written, but a little bit disappointing for me. I expected more, and I found it to be really sad....more
Score one point for Ruth Ware for prompting me to think about this book in the middle of the night. In a Dark, Dark Wood is about Nora (formerly Lee), an antisocial, reserved writer in England, who is invited to a hen night (the UK version of a bachelorette party). The strange thing is she hasn't seen the bride for 10 years, since she was a teenager.
Bride Clare brings her "friends" from far and wide to a hidden-away, isolated glass house in the country where they drink heavily and have many an awkward conversation, especially since Nora and Claire fell out of friendship when they were teens.
And then someone is murdered, and Nora doesn't know whether she is the killer.
It's sinister, but not too grisly, and it's hard to care much about what happens to most of the characters. The characters, with the exception of Nina, are spoiled yuppies who thought the world revolved around them.
This was not bad for an airplane or beach read...but Nora annoyed the hell out of me. I don't have much sympathy for someone who cannot move on after a lost teenage love affair. Nora needed to get a life....more
I debated whether to read Go Set a Watchman for quite some time, but finally curiosity got the best of me! It's worth reading if only to explore this progression of a writer and a book, as it preceded To Kill a Mockingbird.
What I liked about it:
--Scout, or Jean Louise, is a grown woman. And she is a crusty, opinionated, and stubborn one at that.
--As one reviewer noted, Go Set a Watchman is not the book we wanted about race...but it was the book we need. Others have said Atticus was always a racist.
--The writing, at times, was beautiful...when it was not meandering. It showed a slice of history, and perhaps a more realistic one, in the South during that era.
What I didn't like about it:
--Oh, the meandering! Lee often goes off on various flashbacks, and I found myself questioning when we would get back to the main story. Not a good sign, and it reflects the need for the novel to be polished...which it was by the time To Kill a Mockingbird was published.
--Some characters are mere shadows (Jem and Dill) of their evolved selves. I'm not sure why she even included them in this draft, as they appear only as memory fragments.
--Many reviews discuss Atticus' racism while ignoring Jean Louise's own racism. Perhaps she wasn't as flawed as Atticus, but she was no saint. As "the book we need," it is a better representation of the south during this era than To Kill a Mockingbird, because it showed the many layers of racism. Yes, Atticus and Jean Louise's love interest Hank were worse, but Scout too was racist. Although Jean Louise was horrified by the KKK and its ilk, she was just as horrified by school segregation and interracial marriage.
I'm glad I read it if only because I'm a curious reader and wanted to form my own opinion (similar to why I read Twilight). But it's easy to see why Harper Lee's first editor advised her to take a different tack.
Ultimately, this book disappoints because Jean Louise is an old-school Southerner through and through, in spite of the higher hopes the reader might have in the beginning and middle of the novel. As Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times, "The difference is that Mockingbird suggested that we should have compassion for outsiders like Boo and Tom Robinson, while Watchman asks us to have understanding for a bigot named Atticus."...more
This was my summer light read; I took it with me to Florida in August.
It was a psychological thriller about a troubled, hard-to-believe protagonist and psychopaths in her life. Perhaps too many coincidences and unlikely events, but if you can suspend belief, it's worth a read.
Patrick Ness and Jim Kay collaborated on this illustrated novel based on an idea by novelist Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer. As Ness said in his author's note, "She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time."
A Monster Calls refers to the visits in young Conor's bedroom. Conor's mother is battling cancer, and as he and his family members struggle to adjust to her worsening condition, a huge yew tree outside of his bedroom comes to life and tells him a series of stories. "Stories are wild creatures," the monster said. "When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"
The monster is the only creature who's listening to Conor and speaking to him honestly. His father arrives from the U.S. for an incredibly brief visit and has created a new family where Conor doesn't have a place, and his parents skirt around the fact that his mother is dying. He's sent to stay with his grandmother, who is overly strict and controlling and doesn't seem to appreciate him. His classmates either bully him or pity him because of his sick mom. The monster's the only one who understands the fear and rage inside of his head.
My book group debated whether the monster was real or if it was all in Conor's head. I disagreed with a few others; I believe the monster was real. This is, after all, a young adult fantasy novel. The monster teaches Conor things no one else could. And helps him get in touch with feelings that he didn't know he had. We had an interesting conversation about the way our culture handles illness and dying, both in the U.S. and the UK, where the novel is based. People in the UK are much more likely to tamp down feelings and suppress them, and therapy is often not considered to be necessary. Stiff upper lip and all that!
A Monster Calls is a beautiful tale of loss and love. ...more
Can you believe that I've never read a Nancy Drew book? This was my first! I read it because of a delightful little second grader--daughter of a close friend--who's obsessed with them at the moment.
I'm glad to be able to say I have read Nancy Drew--she was a plucky detective but she was awfully concerned with her looks and her friend's weight! But I understand that many of the original Nancy Drew books were rewritten in the 1950s to make her more feminine. I'd love to read the actual original story written in the 1930s. I understand that this book diverts from the usual Nancy Drew template because it's set in the desert, away from her home.
The other class "girl" novels I haven't read are Anne of Green Gables--maybe that's a goal for later in the year. I've been told by many that I would like them.
I gave my little friend Grace a copy of the first two "Boys Against Girls" books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, which I enjoyed with my boys. We'll see what she has to say about those!...more
I always enjoy reading stories about my hometown or seeing it on film (e.g., Grimm), so that's what drew me to The Residue Years. Our local library syI always enjoy reading stories about my hometown or seeing it on film (e.g., Grimm), so that's what drew me to The Residue Years. Our local library system featured it for its "Everybody Reads" program.
But this book represents a different part of Portland than where I grew up (in the predominantly white suburbs). What makes it most interesting is that it's an autobiographical novel, based on the author's own life experiences.
Grace is a drug addict, even though she loves her children. She just can't escape the appeal of losing herself (and her troubles) in a haze. And Champ ends up selling drugs, largely because he sees so many people dealing around him...it's the easiest way to make money.
It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but Jackson's writing is beautiful: “She’s been through fire and got a soft spot for folks that seen the flame.”
The Residue Years raises questions of class and privilege. If I had been born and raised in another part of Portland, perhaps to black parents, would I have faced similar obstacles in my path? Probably.
Jackson opens up our city to bring in different perspectives...some of them not always easy to see....more
An excellent choice for a book group discussion, The Circle is like a 1984, updated to the Internet age.
Young Mae Holland is thrilled to land a job at The Circle, which is like a combination Facebook/Google...a company for the cool kids. As a main character, she falls a little flat. She's unlikable and no reader could affirm the choices she makes in her life, especially as the story progresses. She is completely desperate for attention and selfish.
But this book is not so much about character development as it is biting satire and a parable for our like-and-tweet-obsessed, voyeuristic culture. As each of The Circle's projects are unveiled, what initially sounds like a good, democratic, society-improving idea turns out to be creepy and sinister, reducing any shred of privacy we have left. Life = work, and work = life. And nothing is secret any more, anywhere.
This book made me question the time I spend on the Internet and how I too have gotten sucked into wanting "likes" or shares. It's about our need for instant gratification, coupled with our desire to know everything about everyone. Sinister and thought-provoking. I recommend it....more
I read these books because they're set in Portland and I got the privilege of hearing Chelsea Cain speak in 2010. I read Evil at Heart when I flew toI read these books because they're set in Portland and I got the privilege of hearing Chelsea Cain speak in 2010. I read Evil at Heart when I flew to Denver for a business trip--it was a great airplane read!
Gretchen Lowell is an evil serial killer on the loose, and Oregonians are apparently obsessed with her. Now of course I agree about the insidious influence of sensational media on citizens, but this seemed a bit over the top to me. I have to hope that if Gretchen Lowell were really a true character, she wouldn't have hundreds of admirers and fan clubs.
If you can suspend reality, it's a thrilling read. I will wait a few years before reading the next one though...it's a bit too light--and violent--for my regular tastes!...more
I tried; I really did!! This is like a feminist Game of Thrones...which would be really great if I liked that kind of stuff. I think I've given up onI tried; I really did!! This is like a feminist Game of Thrones...which would be really great if I liked that kind of stuff. I think I've given up on this....more
Each chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. The centralEach chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. The central theme of Keeping the House is the pressure to be perfect that women faced in the early to mid-1900s.
Told through the lens of Dolly Magnuson, a homemaker who moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin in 1950 without any friends in the area, the book goes back to the late 1800s when Dolly begins visiting an abandoned mansion and uncovers the secrets of the family who inhabited it.
Dolly's unhappy in her marriage, just as Wilma Mickelson, the matriarch of the great house, was unhappy in hers. They also both feel stifled by the provincial attitudes of the people in the town. This sweeping novel illustrates the pressures women faced, trying to create a perfect house while sacrificing their own needs. It's homemaking before feminism.
I enjoyed the frequent references to Lutherans in Wisconsin. It was worth the read!...more
I've been reading Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura detective series since the late 1990s, captivated by these books because theHooray! Rei Shimura is back!
I've been reading Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura detective series since the late 1990s, captivated by these books because the main protagonist is a Japanese-American antiques dealer turned detective, living and working in Japan. I still remember my joy in first discovering this series! Sujata Massey is part Indian, part German, like a friend of mine, and lived in Japan for several years.
A fascinating character who I've always felt I could relate to more than most detectives, Rei Shimura led me through ten adventures, mostly set in Japan, before she retired in 2008 to live with her new husband Michael in Hawaii (Shimura Trouble). You can find the other Rei Shimura titles in chronological order on Sujata Massey's Web site, in case you want to start at the beginning (which I always prefer to do). It was a little odd, reading this one, because Rei had aged only a few years even though the series spans over 17 years, but I understand why Massey chose to keep her young.
Since Rei Shimura retired (and I sadly accepted there would be no more books in the series), I've begun following Sujata Massey online and became Facebook friends with her. She is delightful, and we have much in common (including the fact that we both turned 50 in 2014). I hope to meet her in person one day.
Fortunately, she's continued to stay busy, last year publishing The Sleeping Dictionary, a historical novel set in India, which was my second-top pick for fiction in 2013. (My parents' book group recently read The Sleeping Dictionary on my recommendation, and it was a popular pick!) She also published a beautiful little novella, The Ayah's Tale, about the relationship between an Indian ayah and the English children under her care.
But back to The Kizuna Coast! I was supremely lucky to be able to read an Advanced Reader Copy of this soon-to-be-published novel, which will be out in February.
I could relate so well to Rei Shimura's great angst when she saw news coverage of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster. Even though I don't have relatives in Japan, it's where I met my husband and spent three of the most adventurous years of my life, and I have so many fond memories of the kindness of so many Japanese people. During those first few harrowing days, I was glued to the Internet and couldn't keep myself from watching that devastating wave destroy whole towns...my heart ached for Japan.
Soon after the tsunami hit, Rei's mentor Mr. Ishida calls her, asking for help. She gets to Japan as soon as she can and gets embroiled in a mystery...to find out what happened to Mr. Ishida's young apprentice, Mayumi, who has disappeared. She goes to Tohoku as part of a relief effort and is touched by people who have lost their loved ones and livelihoods. She experiences 絆 (kizuna, or bonds of love), which the Japanese show for each other during this difficult period. The Japanese public chose 絆 as the kanji of 2011 after they witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of assistance after the earthquake and tsunami.
While not as literary as her last book (The Sleeping Dictionary), The Kizuna Coast was a quicker read and compelling just the same. Rei Shimura remains cemented as my favorite detective series, and I hope the series continues.
I'm so glad Rei is back! I read this book over the Christmas holidays while I had family visiting from England and Australia, and it was hard to put down. The only other book I've read about the Japanese tsunami was Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, which was my top fiction pick last year. I would love to read more, and I hope one day to return to Japan myself. In the meantime, I'm grateful that my favorite authors are making the trips, doing the research, and telling the stories themselves....more
With the success of the movie "Philomena," this book was reissued as Philomena with a cover showing Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, the actors who play Philomena Lee and Martin Sexsmith in the film. The book, which came first, is not really about Philomena. It's about her son Anthony, known as Michael Hess in the United States.
Although I found the book to be mostly fascinating, it is decidedly not nonfiction. As a fictionalized account of Michael Hess' life, British journalist Sixsmith took extreme liberties with the story...inventing dialogue and fabricating scenes that didn't actually happen. I looked in the back to see his sources, but no interviews, letters, or other paperwork were cited. We know he interviewed people, but one of his key sources, Susan Kavanaugh, has said that he made up a lot of what's in the book and painted Michael's character in an unflattering way. How could Sixsmith have known what Michael said confidentially to his therapist and priest in confession? He should have stated at the outset that this was a fictionalized account of Hess' life.
With that said, I found Michael's story to be moving and interesting. I learned a great deal about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the inner workings of the Republican party during Reagan's tenure, and the Irish Catholic church. I already knew about the Magdalene laundries and found the beginning of the book to be fascinating and heartbreaking, as Philomena Lee's beloved son is ripped away from her...and she was powerless to prevent it. I saw the film "The Magdalene Sisters" back in 2003 and know the Joni Mitchell song well.
The Catholic church has never taken responsibility for these abuses, and staunch Catholic defenders either defend the practices or deny that any abuses took place. In fact, young women and girls (such as Sinead O'Connor) were enslaved in these Catholic-run prisons until 1996.
In my research, I was glad to discover that Philomena Lee met Pope Francis recently, giving her a sense of closure:
"I felt such a sense of relief yesterday for the guilt I carried and that I still carry a little bit today," said Lee on Thursday, a day after the audience. "Because you were made to feel so, so bad about having a baby out of wedlock. "He really made me feel so good inside because I carried the guilt inside me for 50 years, without telling anybody."
However, the Catholic church has yet to issue an apology or validate the abuses suffered in its name.
Back to the book. One quibble I had, echoed by Michael's friend Susan Kavanaugh, is the author's near-obsession with Michael's sexual practices. He is portrayed as a sex-obsessed, promiscuous. and thrill-seeking gay man who is incapable of staying faithful to his partners. That might be true, but we have no way of knowing where he got his information. It's almost as if he's implying that Michael contracted AIDS because of his sexual behavior. He also infers that Michael is never satisfied and cannot make a commitment because he is tortured by being abandoned by his mother. That seems to underline every single activity in Michael's life...that he didn't deserve to be happy. In spite of this, Michael led a highly successful career (as a closeted gay man and supposed Democrat) in the Republican party and the White House. That must have been enough torture for him--as he heard all sorts of homophobia, hatred, and AIDS jokes from the party itself and the religious right. One Goodreads reviewers put it well:
"Having stuck this very bad book through to the end, I really would have liked to understand Michael/Anthony's true character but perhaps only glimpses of that can be extrapolated from Sixsmith's words. He portrayed Michael on the one hand to be generous, witty, fun loving, brilliant, sensitive and on the other to be moody, self destructive, dangerous and insensitive. Completely misleading and contradictory. If a writer can't truly get to the heart of someone's character, then do bereaved friends and family still living a courtesy and don't write about character at all. If Sixsmith had focused on Philomena's quest rather than trying to fabricate a dead man's personality, he would have been more in his element."
Finally, Sixsmith's writing was choppy and didn't flow together well. In a few early chapters, we learn about a civil servant who is trying to stop the tide of Irish babies being sent to the USA to be adopted...Sixsmith alludes to his man's unhappy marriage as well, but to what point? He drops out of the story. We also never hear about Michael's relationship with his brothers later in life...one of them mercilessly bullied him as a young child. We know he doesn't include them in his will, but that's about it. Sixsmith also wrote a couple of chapters in first person as he described how he wrote the book--this totally threw me off and confused me until I figured out who was speaking. These chapters would have been better put in an introduction.
I would have liked to have known more about Michael's sister Mary in her later years. She is mentioned a few times and comes to see Michael at the end of his life. Given the fact that she was the most important person in Michael's life--and she is still alive--why didn't we get more of her story? I can find little about her on the Internet.
Philomena herself doesn't come into the book again until the very end, which was a loss. I'm not sure why Sixsmith chose to portray the life of a man who had died...instead of the mother who was alive. Maybe so he could take literary license with the facts? Who knows?
I was annoyed by the ending, in which Sixsmith mentions Anthony/Michael's father...he alludes to the fact that his father might have been discovered, but says that is a topic for another book. What the hell? That is definitely not enough for another book. Why not share the information in this book??
Both Michael and Philomena stalled in their efforts to find each other. The Catholic church and the Irish government were not helpful. In fact, if the book is correct, Philomena found out about her son when her daughter Jane spied a photo of a new gravestone on the convent grounds. That small lead led to this story.
I give the real Philomena Lee and Michael Hess, both fascinating characters with interesting lives, five stars. The book gets two or three, because the story was compelling...but loses a lot in the telling....more
In this thoughtful middle grade/young adult novel, young Danny struggles to cope with the death of his older brother, Eli, in Iraq. He's not getting much help from his angry father and vacant mother, who grew much more distant after Eli died. Eli had filled the gap of his parents' attention, and now not only was Eli gone, but his parents were even more far away.
Over the summer he befriends two unusual young people: the decidedly "uncool" but extremely smart Walter, and the beautiful, exotic Isabelle, who has quirky and creative younger twin siblings.
I actually found Isabelle to be annoying and pretentious. One Goodreads reviewer described her well as an irrelevant Manic Pixie Dream Girl (defined as "a fantasy figure who 'exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.'” Walter and the twins offered more of an appeal for me.
My favorite parts of the book were Danny's memories of Eli, who was sarcastic and mischievous but loving, and Danny's friendship with Eli's high school friend and purple potato farmer and his girlfriend, who come to be like a family for him.
Rebecca Rupp approaches grief with a quiet, sensitive touch, and even though Danny chronicles the death of various people in his "Book of the Dead," the book was redemptive in the end....more
I loved this book. Written for young adults, I'll Give You the Sun is about fraternal twins...Jude and her twin brother, Noah, beginning with age 13. Told in alternating perspectives, the story is about their efforts to cope with adolescence and change, friendship, the experience of being twins and siblings, deep-seated grief and longing, art, love, and how to be truly, authentically yourself.
The only thing I didn't like about it was the use of the term "surftards." I kept thinking about John Green's stated regret about using the "retard" word in Paper Towns. One could argue that it's what kids say...but I also think that authors have the opportunity to raise the bar and set a higher standard.
As an Internet author friend has said in her review, "The words and terms toilet-licking, asshat, and surftard are used in nauseating excess. Plus, don’t get me started on how the word surftard is simply another version of “retard”--a slur wearing a cloak of originality. First Amendment aside, I think it is irresponsible for a young adult author to coin a new hate term. I challenge her to replace the tard in surftard with a racial epithet and see how it plays out. This unnecessary hate language adds absolutely nothing to the voice and persona of the character who uses it."
Otherwise, I adored this novel. It made me cry. Totally rich, complicated characters....more
Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is philosophical. Irene, however, is not and decides that Ambrose will be home-schooled.
Alone in the evenings when Irene goes to work, Ambrose pesters Cosmo, the twenty-five-year-old son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs. Cosmo has just been released from jail for breaking and entering to support a drug habit. Quite by accident, Ambrose discovers that they share a love of Scrabble and coerces Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club, where Cosmo falls for Amanda, the club director. Posing as Ambrose’s Big Brother to impress her, Cosmo is motivated to take Ambrose to the weekly meetings and to give him lessons in self-defense. Cosmo, Amanda, and Ambrose soon form an unlikely alliance and, for the first time in his life, Ambrose blossoms. The characters at the Scrabble Club come to embrace Ambrose for who he is and for their shared love of words. There’s only one problem: Irene has no idea what Ambrose is up to.
In this brilliantly observed novel, author Susin Nielsen transports the reader to the world of competitive Scrabble as seen from the honest yet funny viewpoint of a boy who’s searching for acceptance and for a place to call home....more
This is #2 in J.K. Rowling's new adult mystery series. Detective Cormoran Strike is an interesting character--he's a disabled veteran with a prosthesis, born to a famous rock star father but alienated from him, motherless and still deeply ambivalent about breaking up with his psychopath girlfriend. I preferred the first book in the series, The Cuckoo's Calling, but this one still contained vintage J.K. Rowling story telling.
The Silkworm is all about the dog-eat-dog world of writing and the publishing industry, and it doesn't paint a particularly warm picture! For example, this quote accurately sums up the novel:
...writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.
Novelist Owen Quine writes a poison pen novel about everyone he knows...then he shows up dead. Quine's novel itself is a bizarre, sexually weird, and symbolically complicated story that I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to read. The writers, publishers, agents, and their family members in The Silkworm are mostly all cut throat and vicious. They have few, if any, redeeming qualities.
Also, I would love to see J.K. Rowling write a book with a really standout, great female lead...instead of consigning women and girls to the supporting character role (ala Hermione Granger). Robin, Strike's assistant, is smart, resourceful, and dedicated, but she's still stuck with her boring drip of a boyfriend and can't seem to realize he's no good. I'm finding that to be tiresome! Also, she's desperate for more opportunities to become an investigator, but this process is so slow it makes me sleepy!
J.K. Rowling is a skilled writer, and I will keep reading anything she writes...but this one just didn't hit the mark for me....more
I've read everything Wally Lamb has written, and this plot sounded promising. Sadly, I found this novel lacking in comparison to his others.
It's the story of Anna Oh, an artist, wife, and mother, who has left her marriage of 27 years and is about to marry another woman: Viveca, a wealthy art dealer who helped Annie become a successful artist.
Annie has three children with her psychologist husband, Orion: Ariane, Andrew, and Marissa. The book spans all of these lives and many others.
Here are the three things I found difficult about the book--if you'll read other reviews you'll find a theme in my criticism of certain novels:
--Too many characters...did we really need to know about all of them? I also noted some convenient coincidences with some of the characters.
--Most of the characters were not really likable.
--Each chapter began with a different character perspective. This seems to be a popular novelistic approach, but it often makes it harder for me to connect with the characters or get drawn into the book.
Annie is a damaged soul--and we find out why--but I found it hard to sympathize with her much. The novel examines the generations of damage caused by sexual abuse, and reading it from the perspective of the pedophile was particularly difficult for me.
How many books do we have available that tackle the subject of a woman leaving her husband and getting married to another woman? This book could have treated that topic in a much more compassionate way. Instead, I found myself wondering what she saw in Viveca, who seems to be a shallow snob. Maybe Annie just doesn't choose very wisely...similar to her children.
Lamb digs deep into these characters' souls, and most of them have complex personalities. I guess I was just looking for more soul and redemption, which I've found in his other novels. This is still a good book, but not as great as his others....more
I found this at the library and thought I'd read it before seeing the movie, as is my habit! Turns out that Richard C. Morais wanted to make a film evI found this at the library and thought I'd read it before seeing the movie, as is my habit! Turns out that Richard C. Morais wanted to make a film even before and while he was writing the book.
I loved the first half of the book...the colorful depiction of Indian cooking, Hassan's relationship with his family and then Madame Mallory, and the process of running a restaurant in India and then France.
But AD (after the deaths of both Hassan's feisty father and the equally feisty Madame Mallory), the book slumps. It takes us, very quickly, through Hassan's trajectory of becoming one of Paris' top chefs. Much of the fancy French cuisine, heavily butchery and innards-focused, does not sound very appealing to me. The second half of the book focuses on the Paris restaurant scene and the process and snobby politics of earning Michelin stars.
Hassan seems more devastated by the death of another character than his own father or most significant mentor. Morais also confesses that he didn't go to India until after he'd begun writing the novel, and then only for 10 days. This is evident to me, not in the way he describes Indian cooking but rather how he describes (or fails to) the culture. After Hassan moves to Paris, he's hardly even Indian any more. This doesn't seem realistic to me. I was hoping to have the author touch on the perspective of an Indian chef learning and practicing French cooking, and that just doesn't happen.
I've heard great things about the movie, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. I understand from friends that Madame Mallory does not die in the movie, and Hassan's also more in touch with his Indian roots....more
Interesting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant wInteresting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant with her first child, and happily married, but instead she's 39, has three highly spirited kids, and on her way to a divorce.
This book turned out to be more in the genre of "chick lit" than I thought it would be. Although I hate the term "chick lit," most of its books share these elements:
--Woman meets man and gives up her career --If she does have a career, it's journalism, PR, or magazine editing --Woman achieves desired perfect, privileged life, with a gorgeous house, rich husband, and 2+ children
In the intervening 10 years, Alice got her perfect life and became a shallow, spoiled brat (in my view). I did enjoy this beach read in spite of its flaws...it made me think about my own life, my priorities (am I spending enough high-quality time with my kids and my husband?), and how quickly life is passing me by. But several things bugged me about it:
--Does someone really change THAT MUCH in 10 years? I find that hard to believe.
--Alice didn't seem very smart. It took her a long time to get that she'd wreaked a lot of damage in the past 10 years.
--I could have done with all the extra plots...especially Frannie's letters to Mr. Moustache. This side plot seemed unnecessary and detracted from the main story. Also, although I have great sensitivity to infertility, I found Elisabeth's letters to be cumbersome as well. Yes, they allowed us to see inside these characters' minds, but I found this book to have too many side characters in general. And what happened in the end to Elisabeth and Frannie was no surprise of course.
--SPOILER: I liked the storyline about Alice's daughter's troubles at school...but could she really do a complete turnaround? A teenager who's been neglected and angered suddenly becomes an angel just because she starts getting positive attention. A bit unrealistic, I think. Alice's life seemed frivolous, pampered, and shallow to me. The world's largest lemon meringue pie? Really? I don't think I would like Alice very much.
--I found the character of Gina to be baffling...her close friendship with Gina changed the course of Alice's life? I guess she needed some kind of conflict, and Gina was meant to present that conflict.
--Does her husband suddenly decide that he is working too much, or does Alice decide that she doesn't care about all the long hours?
--Alice gets her dream job at the end, even though she has NO relevant job EXPERIENCE. Classic chick lit.
I know I'm sounding overly critical. I did enjoy the book, but it was multiply flawed. I'm curious to hear what my book groupies think of this one.
Now to read a novel with a woman character that inspires me....more
This thriller novel was nothing like I expected it to be. I thought it would be more of a kidnapping type of scenario, I suppose. Right from the beginning, it's clear that's not what this is.
Usually I am not crazy about books that have no likable characters, but this one was different. These characters are extremely unlikable, but they are interesting. Amy is married to Nick, and the book starts out with Amy going missing. The book alternates between each spouse's viewpoint, and our narrators are not reliable. They're both also spoiled brats in their own ways.
It's beautifully crafted, and I couldn't put it down. But I also understand the perspective of people who didn't like this book.
It doesn't exactly give you hope in the future of humanity, and it makes me wonder how on earth people could want to stay married to each other when they clearly despise each other so much....more
It is telling that I didn't realize Oryx and Crake was a trilogy and was upset to discover its open ending...even though two of my friends (including the book group member who nominated this book) had told me it was the first in a trilogy. I think I heard "science fiction," and I just blocked out the rest. :) But it's the kind of science fiction I'm drawn to: dystopia.
In fact, Margaret Atwood prefers to call this "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction, because science fiction involves things that are unlikely to happen or impossible, while speculative fiction is about things that could actually happen or were possible on earth...not about outer space. And that is exactly why this book is so frightening.
Oryx and Crake are actually minor characters in this book...the protagonist is Jimmy, or Snowman, and much of it takes place after most of humanity has been decimated by a plague brought on by humans' obsession with genetically engineering everything that moves (and doesn't). Cloning has gone wild, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Corporations run the world, and the powerless live in the "Pleeblands," like the "districts" in The Hunger Games. Crake has invented a new breed of (sort of) humans, who are like an open book--they are innocent and dull, and they lack drama or sexual longing. In short, they are incredibly boring, and they are all Snowman has for company in the end of the world.
The characters are deeply flawed and did not experience childhood love, and as we discussed at my book group meeting, brilliant scientist Crake and ethereal, distant Oryx are not particularly likeable or easy to understand. Jimmy/Snowman's and Crake's love for Oryx, whom they first encounter while watching kiddie porn (yes!), reminded me of the shallow foreign men who went to Japan to meet women, and often stayed there...they sought the type of woman who adored them unquestioningly, were more submissive, and didn't question their actions or words. I have a difficult time understanding men who fall for these types of women, like Jimmy and Crake. And I found it all too disturbing and depressing that kiddie porn and sexual trafficking would exist into the future. But as we know, desperate times call for desperate measures...and sex is a commodity.
While I was toward the end of this novel, I read about a timely, depressing NASA-funded study that predicts the collapse of civilization in a few decades and warns about the depletion of the world's resources and society dividing into the elite and commoners (all of which are essential elements of this book). (Now NASA is trying to distance itself from this study, probably because the agency doesn't want to be accused of being fatalistic, even though Margaret Atwood doesn't mind that.)
I've been reading Margaret Atwood for 30 years, and she is an exceptional writer. I've heard that the books only get better as they progress...and now that she's gotten me hooked, I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. But I might have to recover from this one first. It makes me truly worried for my children and grandchildren, because I can see these things happening so easily....more
By the author of my #1 favorite last year Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is another novel set in World War II illustrating soul-deep friendships among women. One of the main characters in Code Name Verity appears in Rose Under Fire, but as more of a minor character.
Rose is an American ATA pilot and poet who gets captured by the Nazis and deposited in Ravensbruck, where she befriends Russian, French, and Polish women. She is especially drawn to the "Rabbits," the Polish women who were the subjects of the Nazis' horrific medical experiments.
It's the kind of book that makes you wonder what you would do if you were in similar, horrifying circumstances.
This book focuses more on the Christians and political prisoners in the concentration camps and not as much on the genocide of the Jews...a story that is not as likely to be told.
I didn't love it as much as Code Name Verity, but that book set a high bar...and like that other book, I stayed up into the wee hours to finish it. That is truly the sign of an excellent book!...more
I LOVED this book...in fact, it's my favorite so far in 2014. I would not have been drawn to the title, but it was my book group selection for the month.
The story is about "Verity," a female British spy, is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend Maddie, the pilot who flew her into France. The Nazis torture and interrogate Verity (or "Queenie"), and she writes about her friendship with Maddie and their training before and during the war. Slowly, the reader learns the pieces of her story...at least, what she is telling the Nazis.
I don't want to say much more about the book for fear of giving any details away. It did take me a bit of time to get into (I'm not terribly interested in flying airplanes--so the beginning bored me a bit at times), but it is SO WORTH PERSEVERING.
I finished it in the middle of the night before book group...and I found myself crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the few books I've read that makes me want to go right back and reread it now that I know the ending...it will stick with me for a long time.
I think next time I will listen to it so I can hear the English and Scottish accents. It's one of the few books I've read that has the word "gormless" in it (one of my English husband's favorite words, which I'd never heard before I met him).
Some have called it as a "love letter to female friendship," which is an excellent way to describe it. I do think it's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. This is one of my favorite lines from the book:
"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."...more