It's a bit puzzling to contemplate a novel that is a compelling page-turner (blazed through the last one-third in one sitting), that elicits a thoughtIt's a bit puzzling to contemplate a novel that is a compelling page-turner (blazed through the last one-third in one sitting), that elicits a thoughtful book club discussion, but that still ultimately leaves me shrugging my shoulders with a certain ambivalence. I didn't love it. I admire only parts of it. But I didn't feel like it was a waste of my precious reading time, either. It entertained. I probably won't read it again; I'll recommend it only to certain friends. And that was the basic consensus of the group as a whole. I adored Niffenegger's "The Time-Traveler's Wife," so I really wanted to like this despite the lukewarm reviews, but this just didn't hit the emotional chord.
To avoid revealing plot spoilers (and there is at least one doozy!), I'll try to keep comments fairly general. PROS: Compelling portrayal of London (really made me want to return after a too-long absence!) and, in particular, of Highgate Cemetery. (In the acknowledgements, author notes that she served as a tour guide there, and her affection for the place shows.) Interesting contemplation on the notion of symmetry...I suspect there was a LOT of very careful construction of the narrative that could ultimately be diagrammed by a college English lit major. One of my book club members thought it was a modern-day evocation of the Victorian novel (hmmmmm....might be worth thinking about that further...if I cared enough). Vivid, intriguing characters who I wanted to like more. Further analysis also would probably uncover some interesting discussion about selfishness and manipulation. An entertaining depiction of how a dead soul becomes a ghost and evolves. Truly brilliant descriptions of living with OCD--that could have been its own novel.
CONS: To quote a book club member: "Everyone is sooooo messed up!" A depiction of identical twins that is just too weird to believe (and vehemently condemned by a book-clubber who is herself an identical twin). A "secret" without a satisfying payoff; one that seems to unnecessarily complicate, confuse and annoy--and doesn't really impact the narrative, to boot. Some plot points that don't jibe within the book's logic. A few head-scratchers and a deliberately (and frustratingly) unresolved end for a major character. Finally, there's the big third-act plot twist. For some, this was simply the last nail in the coffin. For me, I had no problems with the fantastical elements, even enjoyed considering the motivations of one character, but could not embrace the motivations of two other characters at the center of this development. (How's THAT for staying spoiler-free!)
It's not a book that I'll push friends to read, but if you already have some interest, go for it!
I thoroughly enjoyed this charmer--and not just because it was a welcome and refreshingly humorous departure from our Book Club's recent spate of choiI thoroughly enjoyed this charmer--and not just because it was a welcome and refreshingly humorous departure from our Book Club's recent spate of choices with decidedly darker themes (murder, madness, the Depression, the Civil War). [And to be fair, it also dealt with madness of a sort, too.] But its epistolary-centric approach was so imaginative and expertly crafted to convey a host of emotions with an underlying sophistication that might be overlooked in its satirical skewering of a some broadly drawn characters and situations. The satire IS rich, and I laughed out loud on numerous occasions. But a subtler wit was also at play, along with many heart-breaking and revelatory moments in this family drama. The characters are vivid, with very distinct voices. I had a few quibbles (particularly with the 180-degree turn of one character) and upon occasion, author Maria Semple pushes the narrative action beyond a reasonable level of suspension of disbelief, and that will probably irrevocably put off a few of my reader friends, but I think that most will embrace this one. Like "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" from earlier this year, it left me with a combination of warm fuzzies and solid admiration. Once I was about one-third in, I simply could not put it down! And now may need to add Antarctica to my travel bucket list....if I could bypass the Drake Passage, that is....more
This was a definite improvement over "In the Company of Cheerful Ladies" on multiple levels. The mysteries were more satisfying--especially an near-thThis was a definite improvement over "In the Company of Cheerful Ladies" on multiple levels. The mysteries were more satisfying--especially an near-the-end twist that ties back to the opening in a delightfully unexpected way. I like how McCall Smith continues to crack open the personalities of his main characters. In this regard, we're treated to more shadings of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi, particularly in the former's growing realization that perhaps she should work to be a bit less "traditionally built" and the latter's weakness for impractical shoes. There are some beautiful passages that surprise the reader stumbling upon them among some of the more deliberately prosaic dialogue. (Mma Ramotswe's simple encounter with two white American tourists, one of whom is terminally ill is just lovely.) For me, the pacing was just right, and I was particularly glad of (SMALL SPOILER ALERT) a relatively quick resolution to a misunderstanding that could have dragged on for the length of the book. This one whetted my appetite to step up my pace to reading two books in the series each year, rather than just one. After all, this is #7 and the author has published #14! A 4 rating might be a little high....perhaps a 3.8 is more accurate. ...more
Let me start by enthusiastically endorsing this as a good selection for a book club discussion. While my rating is probably 3.5 stars (Goodreads, canLet me start by enthusiastically endorsing this as a good selection for a book club discussion. While my rating is probably 3.5 stars (Goodreads, can ya work on half-stars?), I overall admired this book far more than I loved it--and my admiration is great! The author takes an ambitious approach, weaving three seemingly disparate storylines together and individual threads are quite thought-provoking on parenting, identity, seeing vs. looking, the documentation of history and its shades of "truth," migrant farm workers today and more. It vividly brings to life the desperation of the Great Depression and those passages of the book continue to resonate with me a few weeks later when hearing a story on NPR about a once-upper-middle-class family in Seattle now living in their car for the past YEAR, after the family fell into a financial spiral in the wake of the housing industry collapse 6 years ago. Or about families in Central America being so desperate to give their children a better life, they send them unaccompanied to the United States. Sobering stuff. Using Dorothea Lange's famous "Migrant Mother" photo, and the historical figures associated with it, as her canvas, the author goes beyond imagining the back story of the photo and explores our desire and perhaps wild hubris to assert that we might successfully "know" the people in any photo from the past. I would have preferred that the author didn't hue quite so closely to some of the details known of the real-life characters, given her decision to give them fictional names. The very end is a bit of a stretch that feels a little pat and undercuts some of the strengths of what came before and perhaps like a picture that keeps you at a distance from its subject, I felt less emotionally connected with the book than I would have liked. Still, I loved the questions it raised and imagine it will stick with me for some time. ...more
What a delightful charmer! It's not the stuff of great, provocative literature, but it hit all the right emotional chords. The narrative voice was uniWhat a delightful charmer! It's not the stuff of great, provocative literature, but it hit all the right emotional chords. The narrative voice was unique, breezy and engaging. The characters are embraceable, and the "book-dropping" throughout resonated with this book nerd, to be sure! It's hard to imagine anyone who loves books, bookstores and stories about books and booklovers not falling for this sweet novel. The end choked me up a bit--for a very personal connection, as well as for its closing optimism. ...more
In general, I do not care for memoirs, but the glowing reviews (including, yes, the Oprah endorsement) for this, and its unique (and discrete) tale, iIn general, I do not care for memoirs, but the glowing reviews (including, yes, the Oprah endorsement) for this, and its unique (and discrete) tale, intrigued me to suggest this as a book club selection (committing me to reading it once picked). "Wild" really exceeded my expectations! To begin, Strayed is an excellent writer--the book's structure is engaging, the flashbacks perfectly placed, descriptions evocative, and she expertly blends heartbreak and humor. She's not afraid to show us her "warts" (many of which are maddeningly frustrating), but I didn't find that she exploited them for cheap effect or miraculous turnaround. Indeed, she matures very gradually along the trail, and the nuance of how she pulls it off in her exposition is admirable. She is well aware that she owes a lot of her achievement to dumb luck, the kindness of strangers and sheer fear of failure. And it's because of that awareness that we can admire her stick-to-it-iveness, even while we want to shake her for repeated mistakes where she makes things all that much harder on herself. Her epiphanies are small, and I loved that, because it felt very real to me, as someone who loves communing with nature yet often finds desired revelations to be uncooperative. Our group all loved it, with just one exception.
I really loved this description in the New York Times. It sums up why I enjoyed this so:
There’s nothing cloying about “Wild.” It’s uplifting, but not in the way of many memoirs, where the uplift makes you feel that you’re committing mental suicide. This book is as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound....more
When I was a kid, and the long, hot summer offered few distractions to the important pursuit of reading, I gobbled up historical romances like Oreo coWhen I was a kid, and the long, hot summer offered few distractions to the important pursuit of reading, I gobbled up historical romances like Oreo cookies. As an adult, when my free time is significantly more precious, I have become significantly more discerning. I have high expectations for the books that luck into a coveted investment of my time and attention--and very little patience for anything that feels like a waste of those valuable commodities. I don't know if "Creole Moon" would have made it to the top of my list had I not known the author personally. But I can honestly report that the hours I spent in the company of Stephen Arroyo and Lucie Dupin Chabrier made me sigh, swoon and smile. Is there any better reward when reading a romance? Well, actually there is--because "Creole Moon" delivers even more bang for the buck of my time. It's vividly written, with rich details, making the mysterious world (to this Yankee, at least) of 19th century New Orleans come alive; I compulsively highlighted one passage after another in my e-edition. Plus, Genevieve Stuart elevates many of the common elements of a romance from conventional tropes to thoughtful reflections that challenge period-appropriate societal expectations about women, slavery, marriage, and "Americans." The pace is propulsive, the hero is dashing, the romantic tension builds in tantalizing fashion, and the pay-off is worth waiting for. (Doggone it--now I want to re-read my (many) favorite parts all over again!) Here's hoping that this is not the last we hear from Stuart!...more
I can't decide whether I want to start this over again from the top or jump into the sequel right away! Either way, "A Discovery of Witches" comes cloI can't decide whether I want to start this over again from the top or jump into the sequel right away! Either way, "A Discovery of Witches" comes close to "Outlander" status for me, and boy did I not expect that! I started it as an audiobook TWO years ago, purchased to keep me awake on long holiday drives. The beginning engaged me, but not enough to stick with the 23+-hour audio commitment that required a longer daily commute and/or more attention than I could pay. Flash forward to Christmas 2012--I had to start at the beginning again simply to remember the characters and plot. And I got a little further but...same ultimate result. Flash forward AGAIN to Christmas 2013--this time, I didn't go back to the very beginning and was able to get to a point where it became downright irresistible and I've been stealing time right and left to finish!
The missing star in my rating probably correlates with the fact of that loss of momentum--and the reasons for it. Particularly at the beginning, the heroine exhibits too many of those annoying romance tropes: "stubborn," "reckless," "refuses to listen to people who know more/better about a subject," "whining about what she doesn't understand" etc. It was certainly intriguing through the first half, but when the stakes get raised about 1/2 of the way through, the book really took off. Yes, it's a love story between a witch and a vampire, something sure to elicit some eye-rolls. But the hero is wildly romantic, the extensive cast of secondary characters is vivid and engaging (including the "house"...yes, you read correctly) and it's a lot smarter than most other vampire/witch tales, with criss-crossing plotlines and allusions about genetics, racism, alchemy, history, ancient manuscripts, British academia, poetry, medieval knights--even yoga! Hey, any book with a plotline about the formation of a conventicle starts much higher up the ladder than most other romances. :-) So now, back to my dilemma--re-read the first third again knowing where it goes, or start the sequel? (The third book in trilogy comes out in June--could be perfect timing!)...more
A very good sequel to "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" that sets up the upcoming third book in the trilogy well. Not quite as wildly romantic as the firstA very good sequel to "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" that sets up the upcoming third book in the trilogy well. Not quite as wildly romantic as the first book, and the first third drags a bit in a long set-up to the next series of actions and twists. That said, I was quite impressed with how the author referenced scenes and key moments from the first book in very organic, nuanced ways; one could read this book independent of the first (but you shouldn't!). Also, in (mild spoiler alert) addressing the appropriate but frustrating storyline decision to keep the hero and heroine apart for much of the narrative, Taylor smartly gives more romance to the "B" couple, which works beautifully; I grew totally engaged in THAT love story. I'm pleased to have been surprised by almost all the twists--a few of which I REALLY did not see coming. The addition of several more secondary characters also works to good effect--would not expect to care about new characters, and yet I do. Can't wait for the third book to be released in Spring 2014!...more