It’s been years since I last curled up with a good Stephen King tale and reading this was like catching up with an old friend. I’d forgotten how muchIt’s been years since I last curled up with a good Stephen King tale and reading this was like catching up with an old friend. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy King’s storytelling and unique style. I’d say reading a King novel is a guilty pleasure, if he wasn’t such a fine writer.
When King’s protagonist Jake Epping is clued in to a portal back in time, to say his life is never the same is an understatement. Stepping into the year 1958, Jake has the opportunity to alter one of the most infamous moments in recent history--the assassination of JFK. With that responsibility comes all the attendant moral and psychological quandaries that ripple out from a change in history. How Jake goes about planning and executing his mission to intercept Lee Harvey Oswald, all the while navigating the unfamiliar (yet strangely familiar) decades of the middle 19th-century, makes for a very entertaining bit of escapism. King displays his trademark ability to create vivid, believable characters while spinning a wicked time travel tale in which time itself is a force to be reckoned with....more
Eight years have passed since we last met Emily Maxwell in Wish You Were Here. In that leisurely book, author Stewart O’Nan took twice the length to tEight years have passed since we last met Emily Maxwell in Wish You Were Here. In that leisurely book, author Stewart O’Nan took twice the length to tell the story of the family’s final week-long vacation at their Chautauqua summer home, bouncing the narration between all nine viewpoints of the main players. Coming in at less than half the page count, Emily Alone is a brisk telling of nearly a year in the life of the matriarch. The title hints at the bittersweet story of an aging woman living alone, reflecting on her past while acknowledging her diminishing days in the future, but it also refers to the book’s point of view. While all the Maxwells make an appearance in the sequel, this is Emily’s story alone.
Emily’s life has settled into a routine, much of it spent with her sister-in-law Arlene. Her days are punctuated by classical music on the radio, conversations with the dog, and honest and amusing details that O’Nan gets just right. Emily spends months in anticipation of her children and grandchildren visiting and then quickly becomes irritated by their invasion of her space. Her expectation and subsequent critique of thank you cards and systematic method for distributing a supply of Kleenex about the house had me chuckling. The Pittsburgh setting was an added bonus, a pleasant return to a location I visited a few years ago; it was fun to spend time with Emily, out-and-about in her town.
O’Nan’s trademark is simple, striking prose. In Emily Alone, every chapter reads with the strength of a short story; when stitched together they are an enjoyable account of an ordinary life well worth the reader’s attention. Despite moments of sadness, regret, and the inevitable aches and pains of aging, there’s an underlying hopefulness that buoys what could easily have been a depressing tale about the sunset years of life.
As with Wish You Were Here, O’Nan’s characters are so vividly realized that I believe them to be real, out there in the world living their lives. I think of them often, wondering what they’re up to and how they’re getting on....more
At times, reading this felt positively Sisyphean; for every one page read, two would regenerate on the back end. Lewis makes his point repeatedly untiAt times, reading this felt positively Sisyphean; for every one page read, two would regenerate on the back end. Lewis makes his point repeatedly until you feel as trapped in Gopher Prairie as his central character, Carol Kennicott.
Lewis' fine writing kept me slogging through the middle of this overly long book and I'm glad I finished it. It's helpful to keep the book in the context of its time (1920) and importance (in blowing the lid off the idyllic fantasy of life in small-town America.)...more
Every new release by Stewart O’Nan is a cause for celebration and The Odds is no exception. In this story of a marriage in crises, set against the recEvery new release by Stewart O’Nan is a cause for celebration and The Odds is no exception. In this story of a marriage in crises, set against the recent economic downturn, each chapter satisfies as a self-contained short story. When we meet Art and Marion, they’re on a bus, headed to Niagara Falls where they plan to spend money they don’t have and literally gamble their life savings away. They’ve weathered some stresses in their union, but to what end? After twenty years of marriage, two grown children and their share of infidelity, they’ve fallen deeply out of love. The bad economy has hit them hard: they’re unemployed, behind on their mortgage, and deep in credit card debt. It’s the contemporary American Dream writ large.
The reader joins this pair as they roll the dice one last time on a long weekend to the place where they honeymooned, so many years ago. With comedy, compassion, and a spry economy of words, O’Nan relates the weekend’s events (and all their conflicting emotions) while deftly illuminating the past leading up to the present. The novella culminates in a nail-biter of an ending, drawing to mind the old adage that it’s not the destination that’s important, but the journey....more
This is exactly why we recommend books to one another. Here, for whatever reason, is a book I doubt I ever would have read if it hadn’t been for a couThis is exactly why we recommend books to one another. Here, for whatever reason, is a book I doubt I ever would have read if it hadn’t been for a couple of friends (whose opinion in books I value) raving about it. A medical drama set in Ethiopia? Pass. The fact that it’s been on the best seller lists for years meant nothing to me. Thankfully, I was lent the book to read and just a few pages in I was hooked. Everything about Cutting for Stone is captivating; the prose, the characters, the story, the location, even the medical story elements, had me engaged throughout.
Cutting for Stone is the story of twin brothers Marion and Shiva, born out of wedlock to a nun and a talented surgeon working in a struggling hospital in Ethiopia. When their mother dies in childbirth and their father flees the country, the boys are adopted by a pair of doctors, colleagues of their father’s, who treat them as their own, raising them against the backdrop of family drama and political upheaval. As the twins grow up, they drift apart until a painful event severs their bond and places an ocean between them. The Stone family’s story is an engrossing tale of betrayal, forgiveness, and redemption that had me reading the conclusion with a lump in my throat. Highly recommended....more
Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford (2009)
I was surprised by how little I enjoyed reading this immensely popular bit of historical ficHotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford (2009)
I was surprised by how little I enjoyed reading this immensely popular bit of historical fiction. My lack of engagement had everything to do with the writing, which I found elementary and extremely lacking. As I was reading, I was editing the clunky prose in my head. Never a good sign.
The story is set in San Francisco and shifts between time periods (the 1940s and four decades later) as narrator Henry Lee tells the story of a life-changing childhood friendship. Thirteen-year-old Henry befriends a Japanese-American girl named Keiko shortly before she and her family are deported to an internment camp. Henry is Chinese-American and his father is adamantly anti-Japanese, adding further complication to Henry’s budding romance.
Overall, the author relies too heavily on stilted expository dialog which only made the already thin characters seem even more two dimensional. Everything is explained in such an elementary way I felt at times as if I was reading a book targeted at a middle school-age audience, similar to The Book Thief. (If it were, I would have been a lot more forgiving.)
Then there were the clichés and the repetitive prose. The plot may push characters into new situations but the thoughts that went through their heads remained largely the same. In addition, there wasn’t enough differentiation between Henry at 60 and Henry at 13, all of which made for a sluggish read....more
Reading this book was a struggle and I nearly gave up on it twice. Both times, I was pulled back in with a brisk bit of plotting or crackling dialog cReading this book was a struggle and I nearly gave up on it twice. Both times, I was pulled back in with a brisk bit of plotting or crackling dialog characteristic of a snappy noir mystery. Unfortunately, this roller coaster ride of a read–I love it, I hate it, I’m board–came to a very unsatisfactory ending.
I loved the writing, but as good as it was, the story failed to engage me for any stretch at a time. The plot was unnecessarily complicated and drawn out. Frequently, I was lost and increasingly found that I didn’t much care. Plot developments were slow to materialize and some characters fell flat. Scenes between the characters of Landsman and Bina were the exception, they really hummed, and there was a clever thread of humor running throughout, but the action was just too plodding and the conclusion a real letdown.
Charlotte Temple was published when George Washington was leader of the brand new United States, and the book would hold the record as the best-sellinCharlotte Temple was published when George Washington was leader of the brand new United States, and the book would hold the record as the best-selling American novel until a little old book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin came around in 1852. It’s amazing to think that the most popular novel in America for nearly half a century (there were over 200 editions) is now nearly forgotten. Until, that is, you read it.
Charlotte Temple is a cautionary tale of the highest order; the tragic story of a young English girl seduced by a British lieutenant named Montraville who whisks her from the shelter of boarding school to a ship bound for the American colonies on the eve of revolution. Once there, Montraville abandons Charlotte and marries another. Poor Charlotte is left alone, friendless and (gasp) pregnant, far from home, family and friends. Her plight is not a happy one.
Nor is her story a very complex one, absent a raft of colorful characters, subplots, or rich description of setting that typify classic 19-century literature. It’s simple and effective but hardly memorable, and surprisingly, though set against the exciting backdrop of the American Revolution, the conflict is never once mentioned.
Charlotte Temple was written for an audience of young women and at various points in Charlotte’s unhappy story, author Susanna Rowson speaks directly to the reader with words of warning and lessons in morality.
Then once more read over the sorrows of poor Mrs. Temple, and remember, the mother whom you so dearly love and venerate will feel the same, when you, forgetful of the respect due to your maker and yourself, forsake the paths of virtue for those of vice and folly.
This excerpt demonstrates that, though written in the formal parlance of the day, Charlotte Temple is surprisingly readable and briskly moves along. (The book is slim, just over 100 pages.) And while it doesn’t contain the most cleverly plotted story, you feel for Charlotte and her child and want the best for them in the end. There’s also an evil French teacher who figures prominently in Charlotte’s downfall, which adds a bit of juicy melodrama. As a glimpse into this period of history through literature, Charlotte Temple makes for an enjoyable and interesting afternoon read....more
On San Miguel, the outermost California Channel Island, two different families in two different time periods struggle to make their living raising sheOn San Miguel, the outermost California Channel Island, two different families in two different time periods struggle to make their living raising sheep on this windswept bit of land surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The book begins in the 1880s and ends with WWII; both stories are fiction based on actual people who lived on San Miguel. Boyle captures the beauty, isolation, despair, and strange tranquility of such a solitary life, dramatically bringing to life the strong women at the heart of each story, as well as the island itself, a fully realized character in its own right. I was spellbound by this book and couldn’t put it down. My favorite reading experience of 2012....more
Living alone on a small southwestern island, the happiness of an Australian lighthouse keeper and his new wife is nearly complete, until a series of mLiving alone on a small southwestern island, the happiness of an Australian lighthouse keeper and his new wife is nearly complete, until a series of miscarriages threatens to drown them in sorrow. When they discover an orphaned baby washed up on shore, it seems as if their prayers have been answered. Over the course of time, their decision to keep the child as their own has heart-breaking consequences which ripple out from the island and back again. I was captivated by this book, with its vivid sense of place, strong characters, and interesting moral dilemma, deftly weaving together multiple points of view, on and off the island....more