At 500+ pages, Wolf Hall is a HIGHLY detailed story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell--his troubled past; his family life; his re...moreWhew. My brain is tired.
At 500+ pages, Wolf Hall is a HIGHLY detailed story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell--his troubled past; his family life; his relationship to Cardinal Woolsey, Henry VIII, and Thomas More; and his understanding of himself in relation to the people and events in his life. It took nearly half the book for me to become comfortable with Mantel's choice to write "he" in reference to Cromwell in the narrative, never referring to him by name (though the other characters do, of course) until near the end. Looking back, I think it was a clever and effective choice for a man who is seemingly all things to all people and often unclear on who exactly he is beyond others' definitions of him.
This is not an easy read. I had trouble keeping up with the characters, who are sometimes called by their given names and other times by their titles (which change over the course of the story). At times I lost the plot thread and had to reread sections to understand, not my favorite thing to do when a book is so lengthy already. Wolf Hall is a challenging read--not a book to take to the beach. If you have at least a moderate interest in the legacy and mythology of Henry VIII's era, you will find the challenge worthwhile and rewarding in the end. (less)
As I read Twisted Tree, I kept thinking of Jhumpa Lahiri's two stellar short story collections, Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth. Twiste...moreAs I read Twisted Tree, I kept thinking of Jhumpa Lahiri's two stellar short story collections, Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth. Twisted Tree, despite Meyer's haunting and beautiful writing, falls short of collections like Lahiri's because it tries to be a novel. The character we're encouraged to consider the center of the story, Hayley Jo Zimmerman, is not the center. She is introduced to us by her abductor in a crushing first chapter (the best of the book), but we only hear glimpses of her voice throughout the rest. Other characters' portrayals of her are only frustrating snippets. Hayley Jo isn't the common theme linking the loosely connected stories--the themes are loneliness, escaping or succumbing to the past, and dashed expectations in relationships. Those themes make for compelling reading, but when the reader is promised Hayley Jo's life and legacy will unfold through the experiences of others, there's a letdown when that expectation goes unfulfilled.
Though the lack of coherence as a novel bothered me and caused the book as a whole to fall short of its potential, I was impressed by Meyers' writing and would like to check out his other works. (less)
Part of me regrets giving this book only two stars because at times I really enjoyed the glimpses into the life and culture of Papua New Guinea. I lea...morePart of me regrets giving this book only two stars because at times I really enjoyed the glimpses into the life and culture of Papua New Guinea. I learned some things about its history, geography, and tribalism, but Salak never stays put in one village or town long enough to really immerse herself in a distinct tribal culture or establish lasting relationships with people she meets. This is on purpose--she doesn't actually WANT to stay put, but rather wants to visit as many towns and regions of the country as possible before she runs out of money or her health forces a return home.
More often than not Salak only skims the surface of everywhere she goes, stopping for a meal and supplies and a night of sleep but leaving again promptly before she really engages. It's only when her travel plans are delayed that she stays anywhere long enough to have real conversations with the people, such as the Indonesian refugees in Pastor Carl's camp. That segment of the book particularly irritated me because it seemed that the challenge for Salak is to see if she can actually get to the camp alive, not whether she can help or bring attention to the refugees. It struck me as thinly veiled narcissism masquerading as altruism. I guess the reader is supposed to be impressed that she continually puts herself in dangerous situations and narrowly escapes for no clear purpose---I'm not impressed.
More generally, I struggled with this book because there is almost NO part of me that can connect with Salak's choices, her attitude about relationships, and her stubborn, reckless treatment of her own life. She says to readers many times that she cannot figure out why she's on this trip, but she also repeatedly states that she went on the trip to be changed. Changed how? She doesn't know. To me it seems obvious that she thrives on doing what others says she can't do, and callously disregards her health and life in the pursuit of those goals. She's shocked at the end of her trip when she hasn't been transformed. I want to yell at her that she isn't transformed because all she did on the trip is do what she has always done--run away from relationships, stubbornly try to prove herself to some undefined person or entity, talk the talk of looking inward and making thoughtful change and then do what she's always done and make no change. The most aggravating part, perhaps, is a cheesy epilogue that jettisons her earlier comments saying the trip hadn't changed her in the way she wanted. She claims to have been changed in the end, but having spent 400 pages watching her refuse to change her ways AT ALL, it reads very disingenuously.
A quick and engrossing read, but not a stellar novel in terms of character or subtlety. Salak begins and ends the book by spelling out in unnecessary...moreA quick and engrossing read, but not a stellar novel in terms of character or subtlety. Salak begins and ends the book by spelling out in unnecessary detail exactly what her heroine, Marika, is thinking and experiencing. The first couple pages really put me off as she presents us with a predictable metaphor and goes on to discuss what it represents (I could have figured that out on my own, thanks).
Most of the novel is not so annoyingly explanatory, and on some occasions she does a nice job of telling the story through action and subtle emotional clues to let her readers interpret meaning. The real star of this novel, and what makes it worth a read, is the setting of Papua New Guinea. Salak has traveled the country extensively, and it adds a layer of interest to read her novel knowing she has drawn heavily from her own experiences. It reads as very authentic and respectful, yet not uncritical of some aspects of culture. I loved the character of Tobo in particular--he shone while other characters felt flat and one-dimensional (the unconvincingly infallible Seb, for instance).
I would like to read Salak's non-fiction work about her time traversing PNG. Despite this book being a work of fiction, her knowledge of and passion for the country come through brightly. (less)
I'm still recovering from reading the scene of Tillman's death, which moved me to tears. I didn't know much about Tillman before this book, but I was...moreI'm still recovering from reading the scene of Tillman's death, which moved me to tears. I didn't know much about Tillman before this book, but I was interested in it because I love Krakauer's writing, I'm interested in the history of the US and Afghanistan, and I wanted to learn more about Tillman beyond the shallow coverage in the media.
Krakauer's political views are hardly disguised in the book, but he is such a thorough researcher that his indictments of the Bush administration/Army's cover up of Tillman's death are hard to argue with. He uses testimony from the investigations, interviews with soliders who were there at Tillman's death, previously sealed documents on the incident, Tillman's journals, and a complex portrait of the Army chain of command procedures that contributed greatly to Tillman's death. Yes, there is a political purpose to this book, but the facts Krakauer has uncovered are rock solid.
The book is a blend of biography, history, and political commentary that works seamlessly to create a shattering story. It made me feel ill to read about the callousness with which Tillman's family was treated following his death--the lies about how he died were sanctioned at the highest levels of military command and White House leadership. The most sickening moment that stood out to me was that a good friend of Tillman's, a Navy SEAL, unknowingly delivers an entirely fabricated story of the way Tillman died while he gives a eulogy at Tillman's memorial service.
I don't have many complaints about the book--the only thing that bothered me somewhat was the uber positive slant on Tillman's character. I don't doubt that he was a brave man who gave up a very comfortable life out of a sense of duty, and that he was a caring and thoughtful family member and friend. These qualities are evident in his journal entries and interviews with Tillman's family, friends, and NFL and army comrades. But he certainly had a darker side, as evidenced by his assault on a fellow high school student and his reckless behavior (which he considered a way to challenge his limits) such as leaping from cliffs to catch onto trees or cliff diving into dangerous waters. These aspects are given cursory coverage, but I think Tillman would have wanted the full story of himself told. He seemed to recognize his own demons and not shy away from discussing them, so I wish Krakauer had done so a bit more thoroughly. (less)
I saw Christopher McDougall on "The Daily Show" soon after this book came out, and I immediately saved it to my to-read list. Almost a year later, I f...moreI saw Christopher McDougall on "The Daily Show" soon after this book came out, and I immediately saved it to my to-read list. Almost a year later, I finally get the happy notice from the library that it's my turn to check out this book. It's been a popular one, as my library wait list can attest.
This book ranks with the best of Jon Krakauer, and it's a lot funnier (you can only laugh so much when reading about people dying on Everest and the like). McDougall is a great writer with a quick, smooth voice and a real knack for capturing kooky personalities in an honest yet respectful manner. I am not someone who runs (I won't say I'm "not a runner" because I'd be going against one of the major messages of the book), but the sections of the book that talk about our evolution as a running species still engaged me. That's not a topic I would have ever expected to enjoy learning about, but I did.
The sections covering shenanigans of the running shoe industry are damning. McDougall has a great line about how it seems too easy to blame Nike for the sham of designer running shoes and their central role in running injuries, except you have to because it's basically Nike's fault. The barefoot running movement, which on the surface could be dismissed as a crazy hippie trend, actually has firm roots in science, medicine, culture, and history.
I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. If you are not someone who runs or cares at all about running, read this book. If you hate to run but do it anyway, read this book. If you run for serious--read it. (less)
I'm 26 and not a mother yet, but I'm in building-my-career and about to get married stage that all the women in this book experience. Their stories ga...moreI'm 26 and not a mother yet, but I'm in building-my-career and about to get married stage that all the women in this book experience. Their stories gave me a lot of things to think about, worry about, and look forward to as I anticipate making some difficult work/family/balance choices in the coming years. For such a short read, Keller manages to covey well the very different and complex personalities of the seven women featured. I found myself wishing I could keep reading about a few of them, particularly the doctor Peg French. I also really enjoyed Keller's introduction section in which she discusses her own career, family, and comeback.
I had a harder time connecting to the women (of whom there are several) featured who are of a very high social class, either due to their family background, their marriage, or their powerful careers. Though their emotions still resonated with me, the backdrop of live-in nannies and cocktail parties and second homes wasn't anywhere near the experience of my life now nor in the future. I felt more connected to the teacher/occupational therapist and the doctor who didn't finish residency till late in life.
Overall--an engaging and useful read even if you are my age and not in the midst of a comeback yourself but looking toward many years ahead of striving for the elusive work/family/life balance. (less)
Fun, silly, creepy fluff. Not the greatest writing in the world, but very entertaining. I have seen the first season of True Blood so I knew the major...moreFun, silly, creepy fluff. Not the greatest writing in the world, but very entertaining. I have seen the first season of True Blood so I knew the major plot points for this first in the series, so I'm looking forward to reading the next ones for something new. (less)
So...I want to give this book four stars because that rating would reflect my interest/level of engagement in this book and how quickly I read it. I j...moreSo...I want to give this book four stars because that rating would reflect my interest/level of engagement in this book and how quickly I read it. I just can't do it, though.
Julie Holland's tales of her work as a psychiatric ER doc are funny, heartbreaking, puzzling, even touching at times. But the patients are only a backdrop to Holland's own life story--this is a medical memoir with more emphasis on the memoir than the medical. Coming into the profession with a self-professed testosterone-fueled swagger and cavalier attitude toward her patients, Holland spends some years being a detached jerk to her patients. She thrives on the wildly unbalanced power dynamic between doctor and patient, approaching her cases with aggression more than compassion under the guise of needing to stay emotionally removed to survive. As the years wear on and Holland's life circumstances change in a number of ways (she loses a best friend, goes to therapy, is attacked by the patient, gets married, has kids), she can't keep up the macho veneer anymore and finally seems to realize it's hurting her abilities as a doctor. She admits she can't find the right balance between aggressive detachment and crippling empathy and wisely decides it's time to move on from Bellevue.
As you would expect of a memoir written by a psychiatrist, Holland is hyper self-aware and is constantly evaluating her own state of mind, her actions, and her motivations. Certainly a healthy level of these activities is necessary to be a well-balanced individual of any profession, but Holland's really border on narcissism. She even uses this word once to describe her fear of being forgotten once she leaves Bellevue, and I think it's appropriate. As much as I enjoyed reading the book, I have to give it three stars for the excessive and sometimes grating self-focus. Multiple times she discusses her sex life in ways that do not add much to the narrative but seem to make her feel cool and powerful. She could have ended the book with a statement about mental health or her patients but instead chooses a hackneyed solo sailing scene that made me cringe.
Very much worth the read if you're interested in mental health/public health issues, but be prepared for the memoir-as-therapy approach.(less)
The scope of Unfinished Desires is simultaneously epic and claustrophobic. Set at a Catholic girls' school in the North Carolina mountains, the novel...moreThe scope of Unfinished Desires is simultaneously epic and claustrophobic. Set at a Catholic girls' school in the North Carolina mountains, the novel traces the lives of several of the students in the 1950s, their families, and the nuns who run the school. Using a somewhat common plot device, Godwin sends the reader back in time and into the future to understand her characters and the impact of their relationships and choices. It works as much more than a gimmick in this case: the students, teachers, and the families in town are all haunted by various events in the recent and distant past; some attempt to live above their grudges, some destructively indulge them, some do both.
About midway through reading, I felt pretty antsy--I was ready for something to HAPPEN already. But this book's strength is in its subtlety and restraint. The reader can see what's coming a hundred pages away, which I think is intentional so that when the climax occurs, we have been squirming in uncomfortable anticipation of how exactly it will play out. There aren't any cheap twists or shocking plot threads--the fullness of the characters and their carefully crafted lives don't need it. Read this book with patience and thoughtfulness, and you will be rewarded. (less)
Joe Drape moved his family to Kansas for a year to write the story of the winning-est high school football team in the state's history. I really appre...moreJoe Drape moved his family to Kansas for a year to write the story of the winning-est high school football team in the state's history. I really appreciated the way the author treats the subjects of his tale. He writes about the team and the entire community of Smith Center with respect and curiosity--he does not romanticize small town life, nor does he patronize the town's obsession with its "boys." It's just the right balance, which was refreshing to me.
While I enjoyed reading about the different players on the Redmen, the portrait of Coach Barta was the most intriguing. He's not a stereotypical coach, screaming at his players and chewing them out if they do poorly. He approaches coaching as an educator, a parent, and a proud community member who loves his town. His character would be cheesy if written as fiction, but he's the real deal, and clearly his approach works wonders. The way Drape portrays him is complex, though, exploring Barta's own challenges and doubts as he does those of the Redmen.
If you are not a football fan with at least a moderate knowledge of the technical aspects of the game, parts of the book will likely be difficult to follow.
I will preface my review by saying that I have not read "Oryx and Crake," which is described as a companion book to this one (not a sequel but more of...moreI will preface my review by saying that I have not read "Oryx and Crake," which is described as a companion book to this one (not a sequel but more of a parallel story). The other reviews are mixed on whether O&C is a must-read before YOTF. Not realizing O&C was related to Atwood's latest until I was a third of the way in, I decided to keep reading and see if the novel stood alone.
My verdict is that it can stand alone, but I have a sense that I would have more fully appreciated the dystopian world and had a richer understanding of some characters had I read O&C first. Atwood creates a frighteningly believable future in which global materialism, waste and pollution, the pharmaceutical industry, genetic manipulation, the sex industry, private security firms with government contracts, and agribusiness (among other villains) have led to disintegration, rebellion, violence, and chaos. To me, the success of this novel is in the lush, realistic portrait of a society destroying humanity and the planet from within. "The Handmaid's Tale" is one of my favorite books, but I would say the world of YOTF is even more unnerving.
Where this book failed for me, however, was in the character development. Again, I haven't read O&C, so I may be missing important chunks. I had a hard time understanding Toby and Ren's personalities until well past the halfway point of the book. Until then, the back and forth narration (switching to different points in time and switching between the two women's stories)caused me to spend more time trying to grasp the sequence of events and less time trying to connect with the characters. Toby and Ren's voices do emerge beautifully in the last third of the book, but it takes hundreds of pages to get there. Having Ren's chapters written in first person and Toby's in third was also jarring to the flow of the novel.
Not my favorite Atwood novel, but a three-star Atwood novel is still stellar. I'm going to go backwards and read O&C now, so this review/rating may change. I hope, however, that this review is helpful to those who have not read O&C and are considering YOTF.