I find writing reviews for books I love quite intimidating really. I feel overwhelmed with the task of ever doing a book justice that I want everyone...moreI find writing reviews for books I love quite intimidating really. I feel overwhelmed with the task of ever doing a book justice that I want everyone to read. And then there’s always the risk that if you gush too much, it’s going to turn people off, or build their expectations so high that when they do pick the book up they can’t help but be a little disappointed. But perhaps I’m over thinking it too much.
I had never read anything by Jennifer Donnelly before and didn’t know quite what to expect when I picked up Revolution. I thought the cover quite beautiful, and the historical aspect of the story called to me, so I had no qualms about giving it a try. What can I say about a book that totally swept me up in its pages and consumed my every free thought when I wasn’t reading it? The sheer beauty of some of its prose squeezed my heart. Donnelly does such an amazing job writing about music that I swear sometimes I heard the notes wafting up from the page. I’ve never claimed to be a music aficionado of any age or style, I don’t read music, I’ve never taken a music appreciation class – but I listen to music. It has an undeniably important place in my life, as vital as reading, and there is just something so simple and honest about the way Donnelly threads music throughout this novel that left me totally captivated.
Then there’s the story – about a defeated young girl undone by tragedy who has lost her way, and her will to live. Andi is angry at herself, at the world, and the depth of her grief and rage is like a sharp and vicious thing that she carries in her chest. Andi is definitely a young woman spiraling out of control. She’s been essentially abandoned by her parents – her father because he is a Nobel-winning scientist obsessed with his work, and her mother who mourns so deeply for the loss of her child it has unhinged her, leaving her depleted, empty, with nothing to give to her surviving daughter. I thought the relationship between Andi and her mom to be a tender and damaged thing; both women have been so traumatized by loss that a sort of role-reversal has taken place, where Andi has become the fierce protector and the one doing the “looking after”.
I love how this novel unfolds, that it is two stories with two narrators – one contemporary one historical. The detail is so vivid, the sense of place so strong, you walk the streets of Paris and run through the catacombs that haunt the modern city to this day. French Revolutionary history is filled with brutality, intrigue, betrayal, hope and disillusionment. As a novelist, you don’t have to exaggerate any of the historical details, you simply stand out of the way and let the story tell itself. I feel that’s what Donnelly has done here; she’s taken her fictional creation – Alexandrine – and written her into the pages of history. Through Alexandrine’s diary, we get an intimate look at the scale of human barbarity it takes to pull off a Revolution.
Andi becomes consumed with the diary and with Alexandrine’s fate and the fate of the boy King locked in a tower to rot. She can only hope that the diary can give her the peace and understanding she seeks to save her own life. This book is gorgeously textured and layered like an 18th century French painting, or a beautiful piece of composed music. It is also a pulse-pounding page-turning adventure, an enigmatic historical mystery shrouded in intrigue and speculation. It's a love story about the bonds between parent and child, brother and sister, lovers and friends. Read this book. (less)
In a word ... outstanding. I can't believe I almost missed reading (or rather listening) to this book. Unfortunately, I have this thing where books th...moreIn a word ... outstanding. I can't believe I almost missed reading (or rather listening) to this book. Unfortunately, I have this thing where books that are SUPER POPULAR alienate me off the bat. And when this book first came out, it blasted off into the SUPER POPULAR stratosphere and any enthusiasm I might have had waned to a lukewarm indifference, and the book went on my "maybe someday I'll get to it" pile.
No matter how much I tried to ignore its existence however, the book and I kept crossing paths. Friends were reviewing it so favorably I started to feel like I was missing out on something big and awesome -- and life is too short on the big and the awesome to walk blithely past an easy opportunity for both.
The Help is about race relations in the American South during the 1960s, how even though black women were entrusted to raise white children and prepare the family's daily meals they were still considered "other" and "less than". I cannot speak to whether the author does this aspect of the story justice. I'm a white girl who grew up on a very white island off the coast of Canada, which means I can't say if Stockett's handling of the details is misinformed and/or offensive. I realize there is always a distinct possibility that any story about race can itself descend unwittingly into racism. Such criticism has been launched at this book. For example, this reviewer here.
For me, the story won me over and completely sucked me in because it was a book about women friendships -- how they endure, how they can poison, how they can save. It looks at how mothers grieve the loss of a child, it looks at the complicated, thorny relationship shared between mothers and daughters. It looks at the cold hard face of domestic violence and despair. It looks at loneliness and desperation. In other words, The Help is a historical representation of the lives of women in a particular time and place and to reduce it to an offensive piece on race and race relations is to do it a grave injustice.
I. LOVE. THESE. WOMEN. They are inspiring, strong, funny, daring. I love how they bring out the best in each other. I love their fierceness, their loyalty, their instinct to protect each other. I also love how Stockett shows the "other" side of womanhood, the side that's not so attractive but just as real -- the envy, the bitterness, the vitriol, the peevishness, the manipulation, the bullying. That sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Forget the mens; I can't remember a villain so well-written as Hilly Holbrook. That bitch be cold. I love this observation made by Minny:
Womens, they ain't like men. A woman ain't gone beat you with a stick. Miss Hilly wouldn't pull no pistol on me. Miss Leefolt wouldn't come burn my house down. No, white womens like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set of tools they use, sharp as witches' fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with em.
I don't know how this book reads textually, but as an audiobook it is truly a marvel. The voices are fantastic, the ebb and flow of the prose and dialect like an angel singing in your ear.
I love books set in the American South; I've never been but the lushness of the landscape calls to me for all the reasons Becky captures here:
"The slower pace, the afternoon thunderstorms, the heat and humidity that makes it hard to breathe, the crickets, crepe myrtles and spanish moss, the old feel and the history... all of it." See Becky's review
More than the landscape, there’s the food. The descriptions of Southern cooking in this book can make a grown woman weep. I sighed, I drooled, I yearned.
Despite its serious and tragic subject matter, The Help is also EXTREMELY FUNNY. I was seriously laughing my ass off in parts – the whole “pecker pie” incident involving Minny and Celia got me to giggling so hard tears were rolling down my face.
Once I popped in the first CD I could not stop listening. I gorged. But unlike eating an entire box of chocolates in one gluttonous sitting, I wasn’t left with a big bellyache of regret. This book will make you cheer. It will uplift you. It will entertain you. If I could marry it, I would. (less)
This book is a great example of why I love books set in the South, and Grisham does a marvelous job of capturing a specific time and place. With nary...moreThis book is a great example of why I love books set in the South, and Grisham does a marvelous job of capturing a specific time and place. With nary a lawyer or courtroom in sight, Grisham delves into this coming-of-age tale with passionate enthusiasm. Luke Chandler is a precocious, wholly lovable young narrator whose voice rings authentic and true. (less)
This one looks really interesting; LOVE the title and the setting!
I had such high hopes for this one but just couldn't get lost in it (which was the e...moreThis one looks really interesting; LOVE the title and the setting!
I had such high hopes for this one but just couldn't get lost in it (which was the experience I was hoping for). Excellent writing, but the odd magical elements and the jumping around in time and with characters kept me shut out of the story. I may come back to this one at another time. I may...(less)
A classic for many reasons, not the least of which is that Metalious is a talented writer with keen insight into the human condition. She knows the wo...moreA classic for many reasons, not the least of which is that Metalious is a talented writer with keen insight into the human condition. She knows the world she writes about, and all of the people in it. Salacious for its time, Peyton Place is tame by today's standards, but still stands as an outstanding example of storytelling.
First line fever: Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.(less)
Have been pecking away at this book for a while now, but won't finish it. I discovered that it's more fun (and addictive) to watch Friday Night Lights...moreHave been pecking away at this book for a while now, but won't finish it. I discovered that it's more fun (and addictive) to watch Friday Night Lights (both movie and TV show) than it is to read about them. May come back to this some day and give it another shot.(less)
This was a tough one to get through. Almost too raw for me, especially that end scene with the grandmother and the family's treatment of her. I was ex...moreThis was a tough one to get through. Almost too raw for me, especially that end scene with the grandmother and the family's treatment of her. I was extremely disturbed by some scenes and almost hoped Caldwell meant this to be a parody of harsh, destitute country life. But no. Whereas Steinbeck illuminates our humanity, painting portraits of human dignity and courage in the face of unspeakable tragedy, Caldwell zeros in on our baser natures. The characters of Tobacco Road are cruel, vicious beings driven solely by primitive urges. There is no humanity, and certainly no dignity. The whole book depressed me, but maybe I'm missing the point. (less)
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said a thousand times, in a thousand different ways in various languages throughout the world?...moreWhat can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said a thousand times, in a thousand different ways in various languages throughout the world? I struggled with whether to even write a review at all – the task seemed daunting, not to mention unnecessary. This is, after all, one of those classics considered sacred by literary critics past, present, and we can only assume future. It makes every list you can think of, including the one for banned books (and you know only the best show up there).
But that in itself isn’t what impresses me … it’s that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those magical books that readers cherish for years (despite being made to read it in school). Readers young and old carry it in their hearts, keeping dog-eared copies around the house that show the obvious wear and tear that only the truly well-loved, well-thumbed novel shows. There are favorites, and then there are favorites, you know? And Mockingbird is the latter kind.
There’s a lot at work in its pages to make it so. Harper Lee’s lyrical prose for one thing (oh, how it sings, hanging so sweetly on each and every lazy southern drawl). Then there’s the book’s heart and quiet dignity (like Atticus Finch himself), that any weaknesses (which won’t be pointed out by me) are forgiven because it’s a story that is perfect in its imperfections. It’s a simple book really, and that is part of its charm too. The best stories with the most powerful messages don’t need to be complicated. Their truths are so universal, so inarguably human, that they don’t need to rely on a lot of literary “tricks” and hocus-pocus.
Atticus Finch is our moral compass – a man who cherishes his community, his profession, his friends, and above all else, his children. Fairness, Courage, Patience, Loyalty, Love, Empathy. That’s Atticus, and these qualities the best of what humanity is capable of when it lets itself.
Lee gives us the world through the innocent eyes of a child, and we are there when that innocence is stripped away. Scout and Jem come to know the complicated, contradicting ways of their small, insular community, but by so doing learn something just as true about the larger world. The reality is harsh, the truth is cold, but Atticus’s warmth and strength exists to comfort them and inspire hope. We don’t stop needing that comfort and hope as we grow older; if anything, we need it more. And books like this one exist to give it I figure.
One last thing; in case you thought this novel heavy and “serious” with a capital S because of its themes of racial, gender, and class inequality, have another think. This novel is supremely funny in parts (I laughed out loud in numerous places). Lee offers delightful insight into small town minds, manners and sensibilities revealing the signature buffoonery and hypocrisy of a particular time and place. I love Dill – he had me screaming with laughter, and has made me consider whether he’s the inspiration behind Irving’s Owen Meany character. I know I don’t have to say it but I will anyway: highest possible recommendation. (less)
**spoiler alert** Sweet and lovely story; Icy is a precocious child with a huge heart and I really empathized with her predicament. Can you imagine ha...more**spoiler alert** Sweet and lovely story; Icy is a precocious child with a huge heart and I really empathized with her predicament. Can you imagine having Tourette's in 1950's rural Kentucky when hardly anyone even knew what it was or how to help? My only criticism here is that I guess for a book set in the South, I was expecting more conflict / trauma. Everyone in Icy's life is just so gosh-darned nice, from her wonderful loving grandparents, to Miss Emily, to the school principal, to the doctors and caregivers she meets at the kids' hospital.
There are a few baddies along the way, but if you're reading this waiting for the big hatchet to fall, it never does. Icy escapes her troubled youth relatively unscathed, protected and loved the whole way through. I was expecting more Fall on Your Knees, The Prince of Tides, White Oleander or even The Hotel New Hampshire. For anyone who found these books too depressing or dark, then I would definitely recommend Icy Sparks, which is light, breezy, tender and safe. (less)
This debut novel set in a small Nova Scotian community during World War I is one of the most engaging, heart-warming stories I've read in a very long...moreThis debut novel set in a small Nova Scotian community during World War I is one of the most engaging, heart-warming stories I've read in a very long time. McKay's prose is elegant and precise, her characters so colorful and well-developed they practically walk off the page to shake your hand. I fell in love with McKay's heroine, Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares (making her very rare indeed). You will love Dora and her loyal women (and men) friends who stand by her during incredibly difficult times. You will cheer, and laugh, and cry (sometimes all at once). Highly recommended.
Dora's decision to apprentice to the local Acadian midwife, Marie Babineau, brings challenge and heartache. A new doctor arrives promising the community's women pain-free childbirth. In order to persuade pregnant mothers to embrace his "scientific" methods, he attempts to criminalize the long tradition of midwifery, calling it dangerous and irresponsible. The story is meticulously researched. McKay effortlessly brings to life a particular time and place, every scene authentic, from the realities of gender and class struggle, to the nuances of folk wisdom and the mysteries of womanhood and childbirth. Details about the Great War, the Halifax Explosion, Dora’s escape to urban Boston, and the Spanish Flu further anchor the narrative.
I come to any novel set in the American south hoping it will deliver on the following criteria: 1) a family encumbered by secrets and betrayal 2) a pr...moreI come to any novel set in the American south hoping it will deliver on the following criteria: 1) a family encumbered by secrets and betrayal 2) a prickly if not downright toxic relationship between a mother and a daughter, or between sisters, or both 3) prose that sings and 4) a smidge of the supernatural. In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Joshilyn Jackson is firing on all four cylinders.
Yes, the book flirts with formulaic and is a bit contrived in places, the ending is almost a little too much with all loose ends tying up a little too neatly, BUT in spite of these shortcomings, the book remains a great yarn. Just don’t go at it with a scalpel. Where the novel really shines is the rocky, abrasive – sometimes abusive – relationship shared between Laurel and her sister Thalia. Their dynamic reminded me a lot of Margot (Nicole Kidman) and Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the movie Margot at the Wedding. Great film by the way.
TGWSS is not without its flaws, but still a great summer read. A similar book in many ways, but a far superior novel is Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Flynn’s book is phenomenal and in comparison makes Jackson’s book seem a little too soap opera-ish. (less)
Camille Preaker is haunted by childhood memories of a cold, hysterical mother and the devastating loss of her sister, Marian, who died when Camille wa...moreCamille Preaker is haunted by childhood memories of a cold, hysterical mother and the devastating loss of her sister, Marian, who died when Camille was only 13. Literally carrying her war wounds upon her flesh, Camille is a recovering "cutter" who has carved a myriad of words into her skin as a visible record of the pain and trauma she's experienced. Having escaped from the clutches of a cloying family environment, Camille is being sent back into the cauldron, this time as a reporter for a second-rate Chicago newspaper to cover the gruesome murders of two local pre-teens. The more involved she becomes in the mystery, the more she uncovers about her town, her family, and herself. The discoveries are anything but pleasant.
Part thriller, part mystery, part Southern Gothic, Gillian Flynn's debut novel is simply outstanding. Camille Preaker is a heroine worth cheering for, as Flynn expertly delves into the female psyche and the delicate, often damaging ties between mothers and daughters. In the tradition of Flannery O'Connor, the writing here is so effective and evocative, this one will stay with you long after the reading is done.(less)