McCann covers more than 150 years of Irish history in this novel, which follows four generations of women in a single family. The first half frames th...moreMcCann covers more than 150 years of Irish history in this novel, which follows four generations of women in a single family. The first half frames their stories in a fictionalized version of historical events: a transatlantic flight, Frederick Douglass' visit to Ireland, George Mitchell's 1998 peace talks. The second half focuses on the women. Lily is just a teen when she escapes the poverty and near-servitude of her life in Dublin for the United States. Her daughter pursues a journalism career and single motherhood in the face of unending sexism, and the granddaughter finds herself back on the other side of the Atlantic.
McCann's wandering, poetic style manages to convey gallons of story in drops of prose. The final section deals with the great-granddaughter, already an old woman at the time of the peace talks. Her story didn't catch fire for me and I wanted a different end to the novel, but that didn't take away from the grace with which McCann outlined Ireland's troubled history and some of its impact on the story of the United States.
When I was a teenager, I didn't go to camp like the characters in this book. I worked at a camp and haunted the library. That mid-to-late-80s era of p...moreWhen I was a teenager, I didn't go to camp like the characters in this book. I worked at a camp and haunted the library. That mid-to-late-80s era of popular fiction included a number of Baby Boomer sagas, and while I enjoyed the stories of 60s protests and folk music festivals, I quickly grew tired of the middle-aged navel-gazing and pretentious references to the spiritual meanings in life.
I'm a middle-aged Xer now and Meg Wolitzer has, in my mind, achieved the impossible. She took the self-involved Boomer novel and made it, well, interesting.
Six teens meet at a creative arts summer camp in the early 70s. They remain close until the end of high school, when a violent incident creates a rift among the friends that ripples through the next decades. Most of the story is told from the point of view of Jules, a moderately talented actor who goes on to live a rather ordinary life of marriage, career and child, while constantly envying her best friend, Ash, who married the gifted artist Ethan and shares his immense fame and wealth.
Late in the book, Ethan says that everyone copes with some kind of trauma in youth, and unless you were raped or tortured or starved, you need to get over it and move on with your life. Wolitzer keeps her story alive by showing how we do, and do not, recover from the decisions we make as young people and the decisions that are made for us.
I don't give many five-star ratings but Woodrell deserves one for this gorgeous and bleak story of Ree Dolly, a teenage girl battling poverty and the...moreI don't give many five-star ratings but Woodrell deserves one for this gorgeous and bleak story of Ree Dolly, a teenage girl battling poverty and the meth culture in rural Missouri. Her crank-cooking father disappears and Ree must find him or lose her house to the bail bondsman. Woodrell elevates this powerful story with his evocative writing; he wields local idioms and vocabulary like a native (he grew up in the Ozarks) and is honest and unapologetic about the lifestyle and moral code in the region.
Ree cares for her two younger brothers and her mentally ill mother, and finds joy in a close relationship with her best friend, Gail. When she journeys to a nearby cluster of homes to confront relatives about her missing father, she is met with cold violence and finds support from an unlikely ally.
It is tempting to quote the entire book but this passage illustrates a number of the novel's themes: family loyalty, poverty, and Ree's determination.
"Ree's grand hope was that these boys would not be dead to wonder by age twelve, dulled to life, empty of kindness, boiling with mean. So many Dolly kids were that way, ruined before they had chin hair, groomed to live outside square law and abide by the remorseless blood-soaked commandments that governed lives led outside square law."
This is a fictionalized account of a 200-year-old murder in Iceland and the fate of Agnes Magnusdottir, one of three people convicted of the crime. Ag...moreThis is a fictionalized account of a 200-year-old murder in Iceland and the fate of Agnes Magnusdottir, one of three people convicted of the crime. Agnes is sent to a family in the remote valley where she lived as a child and must work the farm until it is time for her execution. The descriptions of the barren Icelandic landscape are beautiful and Kent clearly did an extraordinary amount of research but for me, this was not enough to make this a terrific read. The tiny relationships Agnes develops with her host family and a local clergyman provide a few specks of hope, but I found this book relentlessly grim and I would not have finished it except it was a book club selection. (less)
Three stars often feels like a cop-out, but in this case, it is an average. I enjoyed this book maybe two stars-worth--not really enough to suggest yo...moreThree stars often feels like a cop-out, but in this case, it is an average. I enjoyed this book maybe two stars-worth--not really enough to suggest you read it. A young woman reflects on her childhood and her siblings' (separate) disappearances. I just didn't love the style, although Fowler is a good and often funny writer. This was a book club selection and it gets four stars for that purpose because it offers plenty to discuss. I don't want to list the potential topics and give away a surprise that occurs partway through the book.(less)
Book club pick for March. I read the first half and skimmed the rest. The writing is lovely but the author never sold me on the premise of the novel....moreBook club pick for March. I read the first half and skimmed the rest. The writing is lovely but the author never sold me on the premise of the novel. I just didn't believe the main characters would make the decisions they made and so the story felt hollow and fake to me. I would have loved to discuss the book but had to miss the club meeting to deal with a stroppy David.
Loved the setting--there are days when I would appreciate a remote island off the coast of Australia.(less)
I loved Shadow of the Wind and had high hopes for this prequel. It is not a bad book and I'd recommend it to fans of the first one, but the plot wande...moreI loved Shadow of the Wind and had high hopes for this prequel. It is not a bad book and I'd recommend it to fans of the first one, but the plot wanders too much and as the story progresses, the violence accelerates from plot points to gratuitous deaths.
The word that must appear in every review of this book is "Faustian." David Martin is a gifted writer who is dying of a brain tumor. Or is he? He makes a deal with the devil to save his life in exchange for a book, a sacred text that will create a new religion. The story that follows is part suspense and part horror and that might be my problem with it, as I do not enjoy horror stories. Martin investigates the fate of the previous author who took this bargain and he spirals into an underworld of his own imagination. Or is it the devil's reality? We never really find out and that was frustrating to me, but Zafon knows how to take a reader on a wild ride and I had a good time while it lasted.(less)
This is our book club pick for January and it is the sweet story of Don, a genetics professor who meets Rosie and tries to court her the old-fashioned...moreThis is our book club pick for January and it is the sweet story of Don, a genetics professor who meets Rosie and tries to court her the old-fashioned way, by running DNA tests to find her father. Did I mention Don has Asperger's syndrome? That makes for some awkward and amusing encounters but the writer doesn't condescend to Don or make fun of him. The fairy tale structure of the book is predictable but Don is quite the charmer for someone who struggles with empathy and he makes a case that Asperger's syndrome is not a disability but a different mind structure with its own strengths and weaknesses. Can't wait to talk about this one.(less)
A young man connects with his biological father. A teenage girl runs away with her high school English teacher. A brother searches for his lost twin....moreA young man connects with his biological father. A teenage girl runs away with her high school English teacher. A brother searches for his lost twin. Chaon connects these stories in circular time while feeding the reader tiny details about the connections among these characters. "You Remind Me of Me" is more of a page-turner but this book blends suspense and believable characters with just the right amount of fantastical detail. The continual themes of identity and reinvention prompted some good conversations in book club. I am looking forward to reading his short fiction.(less)