If I could give this book two different star ratings, I would. And they'd be contradictory. Here's why.
It's the story of Laurel, a young social worker...moreIf I could give this book two different star ratings, I would. And they'd be contradictory. Here's why.
It's the story of Laurel, a young social worker who works at a homeless shelter. When one of their clients, Bobbie Crocker, dies with no known relatives, Laurel is given a box of photographs found in his room. The photos bring up all sorts of questions as to who this man was, as they depict celebrities and are quite edgy, perhaps good enough to mount a show benefiting the shelter. The director of the shelter asks Laurel to do a bit of research on this man and his photos and put the show together. As she reviews the photos, she notices a photograph of herself, biking on a lonely logging road in Vermont. The photo was taken on the day she was brutally assaulted 7 years before.
Laurel becomes obsessed with the photos when she recognizes scenes from her childhood village and the home of her neighbors Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, characters of The Great Gatsby fame. Bobbie had been in shelters and psychiatric hospitals and had supposedly worked around personalities. Some people believed him, others were skeptical and thought perhaps he was delusional. Laurel thinks she recognizes a deep secret in Bobbie's life and sets off in detective like fashion to figure this out and expose Bobbie's truth.
So that's sort of the story. Laurel had a traumatic event in her life, and this guy Bobbie was in and out of institutions. We learn about the homeless, about the effects of violent crime, and mental illness. I found this part was terrific. Other reviewers have been caught up with the writer's poor editing and mis-facts (like a child eating a caramel apple and getting red stains on her face - when caramel is sticky brown), and the fact that a male author writes in the voice of a young woman. Those things seem trivial to me compared to the themes behind the story, which are strong. The issue I have with the book is the ending. While there were clues early on in the book, I felt like it was gimmicky and contrived. I don't read a book for the ending. I don't read whodunits. I think they're a waste of my time, and by winding up the book the way Bohjalian did, he diminished the importance of the underlying themes he was trying to explore. To me those themes were so much more important than a thrilling ending, because I didn't feel like the book was a thriller in and of itself. I kept waiting for the "thrilling" parts to happen, and they never developed. And then I felt like I'd been duped, like too many red herrings had been set up along the way. So an 4 for thematic issues, a 2 for assembly.(less)
When I got this book it was with the realization that many people felt that it fell short of Isabel Allende's earlier novels. I had no idea what it wa...moreWhen I got this book it was with the realization that many people felt that it fell short of Isabel Allende's earlier novels. I had no idea what it was about but being an Allende fan, I finally pulled it off the shelf and read it. Now I understand why people didn't like it.
This is a departure from her magic realism and her beautiful non fiction works in that while it is a work of fiction, there is so much history and so many descriptions packed into this book, that at times it reads like a textbook. The names were hard to follow, even for me, and I grew up hearing them.
It's the story of Ines de Suarez, a young lady who left Spain in search of her husband who had left her behind to conquer the New World and gain the riches of jewels and gold of which so many spoke. She left on her own knowing only that he was somewhere in the southern hemisphere and when she finally heard of him, found out she was a widow. And in the 16th Century most women would have then entered a convent or gone home to family, but Ines was made of different, stronger cloth. She hooked up with the young, handsome Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, and set off to conquer that slip of land known as Chile.
As Chile is the country of my birth and that of my grandparents and many times over great-grandparents, and since as a teenager I absolutely hated history, and paid more attention to the flies on the wall than the teacher in front of me, this book gave me a second chance to learn about the settling of the land which still has the power to pull at my heartstrings, and to know the woman behind the men (because there were several) who was instrumental in the settlement of Santiago.
My one bone to pick with the book is the awful awful translation. I know Allende has used Margaret Sayers Peden many times (or perhaps always) to translate - but she falls short every single time. Her knowledge of English is 99% terrific. It's that 1% that starts showing up over and over again that impedes the flow of the language. While I know Allende's spanish is perfect and her prose is lovely and flowing, when translated into English is becomes bumpy. Not wrong, just not how Allende would have written it had English been her first language.
For example: on page 239 of the hardcover edition, she says: "To ask my forgiveness, Pedro sent from La Serena, by swift horse, a love letter and an extravagant gold ring." There's nothing wrong with the sentence, it has all its parts - but it's not smooth writing as it would be in Spanish.
Pedro sent me a love letter and an extravagant gold ring to ask for my forgiveness, from La Serena by swift horse. By swift horse from La Serena, Pedro sent me a love letter and an extravagant gold ring to ask for my forgiveness??? I don't know, I'm not a professional translator although I've done many professional translations, if that makes sense. So that's my one pet peeve with the book. Otherwise, I enjoyed it immensely and just wish I had had the sense to pay more attention in high school!(less)
I very much enjoyed this book. It's the story of Mr. March, the father of the girls in Little Women. While the classic book tells the story of a year...moreI very much enjoyed this book. It's the story of Mr. March, the father of the girls in Little Women. While the classic book tells the story of a year in the life of the 4 girls and wife of a man who leaves them to become a chaplain in the Civil War, Brooks picks up the story of Mr. March, the chaplain and tells the tale of a year in his life during the war.
The Marches were a Massachusetts family, very forward thinking and eager to help the cause of slavery. Mr. March enlists as a 40 year old man, very aged for those days, with the knowledge that he will be doing his part as a preacher to help the union troops. His values and expectations are hit full force as he experiences the realities of war, the nastiness, the harshness, the ability to inflict pain, the hatred - that the war brings out in the best of people. His courage is put to the test on more than one occasion and as he writes to his family, he spares them of the miseries of war and of his own spirit.
One of the things that intrigued me was the fact that Mr. March was a vegetarian, indeed a vegan. Throughout the book I figured it was the author who was imposing some sort of hidden agenda into this character. Not until I read the afterword did I figure out that she had based his character on actual journals of Mr Alcott, Louisa May Alcott's father. And Mr. Alcott, did actually experiment with veganism. I wish I had read this beforehand, because rather than be a spoiler, it would have allowed me to marvel at the fact that such thought existed 150 years ago.
One other thing that brought this narrative close to home. My great great grandfather enlisted in Massachusetts army, as did his 2 sons. My GGF lied about his age to enlist. He enlisted at age 54 by giving the false age of 44 and lasted a year before being wounded in combat. (less)
I kept waiting for this one to get better. It got rave reviews and was a National Book Award finalist, but I just did not like it.
It's a piece of hist...moreI kept waiting for this one to get better. It got rave reviews and was a National Book Award finalist, but I just did not like it.
It's a piece of historical fiction, revolving around a young lady who becomes the mistress of the dictator of Paraguay in the 1850's. The writing was choppy, every paragraph a new vignette with very little flow. To top that off, many of the words in Spanish were misspelled, with missing accents or accents on the wrong syllable, and I question some of the historical data.
It might be a good omen that my first book of 2009 is a series of short stories called “There’s No Toilet Paper…..on the Road Less Traveled.” From Peru...moreIt might be a good omen that my first book of 2009 is a series of short stories called “There’s No Toilet Paper…..on the Road Less Traveled.” From Peru to India, from Italy to Virgeenee, in a few short pages, I got a very good idea of the humor and adventure (or misadventure depending on the case) of some well heeled travelers. Most of the short stories were taken from the authors’ various books, and true to form, there were a couple that I really enjoyed, like Dave Barry’s account of taking the family to London as a tax write off. There were also a couple that just didn’t do it for me, Bill Bryson, just a bit too ascerbic for my taste, and the late David Foster, a bit too long winded. Riding a bus in a third world country, came across as a bit presumptuous and holier-than-thou, while talking to a looney policeman in Iquitos Peru, seemed to be spot on. The best part of these short stories is that if you really like them, you can always buy the book they were taken from and if you don’t, you are done in a matter of 4 pages or so.
This volume also included some old, but very good cartoons taken from The New Yorker and other publications, which were great. (less)
Esme Lennox as a young girl reminded me of myself. Rebellious, independent, marching to a different drummer, running when she should be walking, fidgi...moreEsme Lennox as a young girl reminded me of myself. Rebellious, independent, marching to a different drummer, running when she should be walking, fidgiting when she was expected to sit still, and in general not conforming to the strict social norms imposed by her mother. Events lead to Esme being put in an insane asylum supposedly for a brief period of time, and winds up staying there for 60 years, until the place closes and she's put in contact with her great niece, Iris. Iris had never heard of this woman but, takes her in and slowly, jumping back and forth through time and thought processes the story unravels seamlessly. The characters, situations and writing were all quite good and the end result is a bit of sad tale of families and secrets and imbecilities...but very good indeed. (less)
This is a book that has received a lot of hype, and generally I don't do hyped up books, but it's summer and I was in need of a good, long summer read...moreThis is a book that has received a lot of hype, and generally I don't do hyped up books, but it's summer and I was in need of a good, long summer read - and this book just fit that niche. It started out quite slowly, I just about gave up on it between 100-200 pages in, but persevered and I'm glad I did. At 976 pages, the author works hard to hold the reader's attention - and it was no small feat. I do think a good editor could have easily whacked off 200 pages, but all in all I was satisfied with the length.
Without going into too much detail, the story opens in the early 1100's in England, with Tom the builder getting laid off a project, making a couple of wrong decisions and winding up starving with his family in tow, trying to survive the harsh winter with no home, foraging for food and a wife about ready to give birth. The story follows Tom's life as a builder of churches, and the children who followed him. We learn about monks, and priors, rectories, sheriffs, Earls, Bishops and Archbishops, Kings and deposed royals. We read about how the church and leaders manipulated people for their own self-agrandizement. We also get a detailed lesson in the history of church building - fascinating stuff, but it would have benefited enormously from a few sketches thrown in for clarity. There are knights in shining armour, rapes and murders and damsels in distress. Fighting and praying, murders and absolutions, all hand in hand.
A very satisfying summer read, but it would also make a great winter read, in front of a fire with a nice glass of wine.... highly recommended. (less)
I recommended this book to our book club and, finally!, got a good one. It's hard to recommend books for club when I haven't read them. I go by other...moreI recommended this book to our book club and, finally!, got a good one. It's hard to recommend books for club when I haven't read them. I go by other peoples' recommendations, by amazon recommendations or just by the fact that I've already read the author. Well, it doesn't always work. But this time it did. And this book is a winner.
It's the story of a 10 year period in the lives of Frank Lloyd Wright and the woman who became his mistress, Mamah B. Cheney. The affair started in the early years of the 20th century, women in the United States still did not have the vote and social mores were set in stone. This affair wreaked havoc on all the lives it touched, and influenced the work of the famous architect. The period is exquisitely described and the two main characters brought to life in a very humane way.
My only quip with the book is that I wish it had illustrations of the homes, churches and gardens that are mentioned. I realize that it would be unusual in a novel, but this novel is unusual itself. (less)
I'm still scratching my head over this book. It must be the first time since high school that I read a book, finish it, and look back and go, huh? I d...moreI'm still scratching my head over this book. It must be the first time since high school that I read a book, finish it, and look back and go, huh? I didn't understand it, wasn't blown away by the writing, and even though I tried really hard to find the beauty in his writing, I couldn't. No memorable quotes or passages that I found, hard to follow, I had no idea what happened from chapter to chapter until at the end he somewhat wrapped things up in a very odd way.
I almost felt like the chapters were written at different times, some were linear and some were downright erratic; at certain points, I thought he was developing character and this would go somewhere, and in other chapters it seemed as though bits were left out or someone altogether different had done the writing.
In the end, I'm quite disappointed because I really did want to enjoy this book.(less)