I should have reviewed this sooner. I enjoyed reading it — it was a page turner — but just now as I started to write this review, I stared at the coveI should have reviewed this sooner. I enjoyed reading it — it was a page turner — but just now as I started to write this review, I stared at the cover blankly. "Did I read that?"
Having read the precis, I now remember it was the one about the French resistance in World War II. Oh yeah, it was interesting to read about the experience of being occupied. A lot of the WWII books I read are set in England, where the experience was one of attack and defense but never occupation (except in the Channel Islands, but I haven't read a war book set there).
There was plenty of moral ambiguity in this book, good characters and well-drawn settings. It wasn't especially literary, but it was a good beach read, if you like your beach reads to involve plenty of hardships and the odd murder....more
When I was a kid I enjoyed Roald Dahl's writing very much, but I don't remember ever reading Matilda. I read it now on the insistence of my children (When I was a kid I enjoyed Roald Dahl's writing very much, but I don't remember ever reading Matilda. I read it now on the insistence of my children (and after seeing the musical).
Matilda is a very bright little girl with a horrible family, who is sent to a horrible school. She copes with her miserable life by reading books and by acts of guerilla disobedience committed first against her family, and later against the vile headmistress Miss Trunchbull. In the end she gets a lovely happy ending, a wish-fulfillment fantasy for any miserable child.
Dahl does not talk down to children. Matilda is presented unapologetically as extremely bright, with a assumption that the reader will relate to her, or at least sympathize with her — not resent her.
I appreciate how Dahl creates little windows into the ways of adults, like in this sentence: "The prospect of coaching a child as bright as this appealed enormously to her professional instinct as a teacher." First of all, unflinching vocabulary. Second, how interesting to know that teachers have professional instincts and that they enjoy working with children. This book (and probably his others) are full of these little adult-life Easter eggs. ...more
Brick Lane is the story of a young woman from Bangladesh, Nazneen, who is sent to London, England, to be married to an older man. The plot takes us thBrick Lane is the story of a young woman from Bangladesh, Nazneen, who is sent to London, England, to be married to an older man. The plot takes us through her adjustment to life in the grim apartment complex, the births of her three children, an affair, and through it all her worry about her sister who is making a very different kind of life back home.
While we're following Nazneen's story we also learn about her sister Hasina and her husband Chanu. Hasina's story is told through the exuberantly ungrammatical letters she sends to Nazneen, and Chanu's story we have to infer from Nazneen's perspective. All three characters are rich and convincing, and travel compelling arcs.
The primary conceit of the story is Nazneen's discovery of her own agency. She is taught as a child to be fatalistic, to accept the bad with the good as out of our control. It takes her years to shake off that belief, even as she makes choices for herself.
I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Chanu, maybe because I relate to him as someone really smart with lots of ideas who is, nonetheless, unable to get anything off the ground. He is deeply flawed — arrogant, self-important, disorganized, prone to making bad choices — but at the bottom of it he's a good guy who means well.
I also related to Nazneen's feeling that she's responsible for keeping harmony between her children and her husband, and the description of the tension she feels when they're all home and she's trying to referee their interactions. My household is nothing like so tense, but as a child I was the emotional caretaker of my family, and those habits die hard. ("Why can't we all just get along?!")
I enjoyed this book very much, and felt carried along by the characters and their relationships....more
The Painted Drum is really three stories joined by one object, an elaborate Ojibwe ceremonial drum which turns up in a Ne3.5 stars. No, four. No, 3.5.
The Painted Drum is really three stories joined by one object, an elaborate Ojibwe ceremonial drum which turns up in a New Hampshire attic. The first story is that of the estate appraiser who discovers the drum in the attic; the second is of the man who made the drum; and the third is of a struggling single mother whose daughter is drawn to the drum in a time of desperation.
This is a good book, and an easy read. The characters are rich and interesting, and the relationships among them are vibrant. The plot moves along steadily: lots of stuff happens, there are secrets unveiled and connections made which reward patient and attentive reading. Lots of ideas are explored: identity, poverty, ownership, spirituality.
I am about talking myself into a four-star rating for this book, it's got so much juice in it. I didn't give it four to start with because, while I enjoyed it immensely, it didn't grab me in the gut. But sometimes I wonder how much that kind of visceral reaction has to do with my state of mind when I read a book, rather than the book itself. I think this might be a four-star book for me if I'd read it at a different time....more
I picked this book out of a box on someone's front yard because it looked interesting. Before I started it, I thought I'd checked out the reviews hereI picked this book out of a box on someone's front yard because it looked interesting. Before I started it, I thought I'd checked out the reviews here to see if it was any good. I saw that the rating was pretty low, but on closer inspection that seemed like it was because of bad ratings from angry pro-lifers.
It turns out that this is not a great book, pro-lifers or no.
First, the good. I liked the premise and the characters were intriguing. The plot was sound (although it lagged in the middle).
The good was outweighed by the bad writing, though. The author overreaches, trying to be clever and missing: "Summoned by her small, indifferent back" makes the reader wonder how a back can be indifferent. "Celina's skimpy bras like slithery vertebrate animals" — what?
At other times it just doesn't make sense: "'You'll get used to it', she answered in broken Russian." Probably meaning "in a Russian accent", but the copyeditor didn't catch it. At a party, a character gets "more agitated by the minute" in a conversation that would only take a few seconds. Children are spoken to and then five lines later have disappeared for no reason, only to be called back into view for dinner.
It's off-putting to be dragged out of the narrative every few pages to try and picture something which doesn't make sense or decipher a weird metaphor.
The characters were unevenly drawn, as well. Most of the characters are terrible people, which is fine, but the letcherous art professor blushes and stammers. His unstable wife is sometimes naive, sometimes manipulative, sometimes clever. Yes, people can be complicated, but none of these discrepancies are explored or explained. Actually that's probably the most disappointing thing: the characters are sketched to be so rich and interesting, but they are not filled in.
Oh, and a character is (view spoiler)[locked up at the ankles with those cheap chain-and-plastic bike locks with the four-number cylinder locks, but his hands are free and he's left alone for hours at a time. How long would it take to crack one of those? Like twenty minutes? (hide spoiler)] WHERE IS THE COPYEDITOR?...more
I loved this book. Funny, I just took a star off The Nightingale because I enjoyed it after I read it, but then forgot about it. I think I'm going toI loved this book. Funny, I just took a star off The Nightingale because I enjoyed it after I read it, but then forgot about it. I think I'm going to add a star to this book because I remember it so fondly.
I enjoyed the relationships in this book. There is a lovely romance, and there's also a woman struggling with the death of a wife (partner? I don't remember) who she didn't really love. I also enjoyed the setting — Toronto Island is one of my favourite places, so it was a treat to visit it in the cold of winter. (I know you can physically visit Toronto Island in winter, but I wouldn't want to — for me it's a summer place.)
I think I originally gave this only three stars because the ending didn't ring as true as the rest of the book. I can't remember if it was rushed or just felt like a mis-fit. (As usual, I should have reviewed sooner!) But that impression has faded and I'm left with a warm memory of this book....more
Rush Home Road is the story of an old woman and a little girl, and of love and home and belonging.
I liked this book. The characters are beautifully dRush Home Road is the story of an old woman and a little girl, and of love and home and belonging.
I liked this book. The characters are beautifully drawn and likeable (except when they're bad guys). Lansens has a great sense of time and place and creates vivid settings. I can see why the movie option for this book sold so quickly: it's very cinematic. (What are you waiting for, Whoopi Goldberg?) Indeed, Lansens was a screenwriter before she wrote this, her first novel.
The plot is melodramatic in retrospect, but events are not so improbable as to pull you out of the book. As always with Lansens' books, everything comes together in a tidy and satisfying manner at the end.
I'm not sure why Lansens, a white woman, writes so often about black and mixed-race people. I can't personally speak to whether she handled black experience in Southern Ontario well in Rush Home Road. However, this review by George Elliot Clarke suggests it was well done....more
A caveat: this review and rating is more about my inability to read short stories than it is about the writing, which is wonderful. But yeah, I am terA caveat: this review and rating is more about my inability to read short stories than it is about the writing, which is wonderful. But yeah, I am terrible at short stories; I read too fast and I'm to inattentive so I forget the characters from one sitting to the next, I'm too impatient to take a break between stories so I read them back to back and get the characters mixed up, and everything is over too fast. It's confusing. I'm not good at short stories.
Having said that, Munro's writing is clear and simple: she captures people in a few phrases, and she lays out scenes and events with elegance and grace.
Unfortunately it seems she's only written short stories, so I'm going to have to figure out how to read them if I want to read any more of her work. ...more
This is the story of Audrey, a young woman with a peculiar family, and a tortoise who goes by several names, but most recently Winnifred. It's also abThis is the story of Audrey, a young woman with a peculiar family, and a tortoise who goes by several names, but most recently Winnifred. It's also about love, family, and death.
I enjoyed this book very much. It's a bit quirky and weird, enough to be charming without being obstructive. Audrey and Winnifred narrate the book; Audrey is neuro-atypical in some unspecified way, and Winnifred is a tortoise, so sometimes their perceptions of things take some thinking about. I like that, I like having to work a little bit when I'm reading.
Book Club Says
This was one of those rare universally-enjoyed (almost) books which also yielded good discussion. Usually if everyone loves a book, there's nothing more to say about it, but in this case there was plenty of meat to chew over. One of our comments was that you feel like you're in good hands with Grant, like she knows what she's doing and everything is in the book for a reason....more
A Thousand Acres is about the unravelling of a family. It's about patriarchy and man's dominion over land and over women. It's about lies and secrets,A Thousand Acres is about the unravelling of a family. It's about patriarchy and man's dominion over land and over women. It's about lies and secrets, love and madness.
I related to the protagonist, and how she deals with difficult relationships, very strongly. (view spoiler)[(Which made the attempted murder part of the book a little worrying, to be honest.) (hide spoiler)] Smiley captures what it's like to live in a family where you never talk about the real things, just skim along the surface of life and go along to get along.
I really enjoyed this book, sometimes in the painful way that I enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns, sometimes in the usual what-happens-next way. I especially like the flat tone of the narrator, how she describes plot bombshells in the same way she describes how her tomato plants are coming along.
I think my mother would have enjoyed this book. ...more
This book was lying around my house so I decided to read it as a quick palate cleanser between other, harder books. It made me cry my face off. I thinThis book was lying around my house so I decided to read it as a quick palate cleanser between other, harder books. It made me cry my face off. I think that's Katherine Paterson's thing.
The protagonist, Galadriel "Gilly" Hopkins, is rather a horrible child. Abandoned by her mother, she's been messed around by the system and various nasty foster parents until she's almost a lost cause. Her social worker finally puts her with Trotter, the foster mother of last resort. Trotter is a huge, messy woman who lives in a huge, messy house with a small, possibly developmentally delayed foster son name William Earnest and a black neighbour. Snobby, racist Gilly is disgusted by this turn of events.
The book concerns Gilly's change of heart about her new foster family (and foster neighbour) — and how she manages to catastrophically screw it all up anyway.
I love that Paterson lets the catastrophic screw-up stand, and shows how Gilly recovers and uses what she learns at Trotter's house to figure out how to survive in her latest new life....more
I read this as a companion piece to Ender's Game (according to my husband there is a whole subgenre of "video games that turn out to be real" SF out tI read this as a companion piece to Ender's Game (according to my husband there is a whole subgenre of "video games that turn out to be real" SF out there). They're quite different books but they're neck and neck in terms of quality of characterization and depth of insight, with Pratchett coming out ahead with Humour over Earnestness....more
About a New York woman who owns a knitting store and has a teenage daughter and meets up with an old friend and, I dunno, hilarity ensues. I guess I wAbout a New York woman who owns a knitting store and has a teenage daughter and meets up with an old friend and, I dunno, hilarity ensues. I guess I wasn't overwhelmed with love for this book. It was fluffy like a ball of mohair and seemed contrived....more
A book about the various inhabitants of a dying town on the Massachusetts coast. It's gloomy reading but compelling. The characters are well-drawn andA book about the various inhabitants of a dying town on the Massachusetts coast. It's gloomy reading but compelling. The characters are well-drawn and the stories are interesting and credible. A worthwhile read....more
I set myself the goal of reading the Harry Potter books this year because they seem to be part of our culture and I was tired of missing references. WI set myself the goal of reading the Harry Potter books this year because they seem to be part of our culture and I was tired of missing references. When I had to ask my twelve-year-old for a fact check on a Harry Potter reference in a legal paper I was editing, I knew it was time for action.
I slogged through the first few books, I admit it. I had read The Philosopher's Stone when it came out, and was so underwhelmed I decided not to bother with the rest, even though I was told that "they pick up around book three or four". When does one ever give an author three whole books to be boring in before they get around to being good? I didn't see the point, when there are so many amazing books by other people waiting to be read.
In the end I think it was worth it. (Well... I might suggest skipping the first two or three books — maybe read the summary on Wikipedia.) By the time I got to this book I was batting my children away and blocking out hours in my calendar so I could sit in peace and find out what happens next. What's the deal with Dumbledore and Snape? What is Malfoy up to? Where are the Deathly Hallows? Why is Hagrid still employed? What does Hermione see in Ron? (Not all my questions were answered.)
I don't have to tell you this is a great story with a gripping plot, and a nuanced perspective on the manifestations of evil. But mostly I'm glad I read it because I can now have long and meaningful discussions with my children about which Hogwarts houses all the Whedonverse characters belong to....more
This was my favourite of the HP books so far; my second favourite is Order of the Phoenix, so maybe they're just getting better?
I liked the mystery, oThis was my favourite of the HP books so far; my second favourite is Order of the Phoenix, so maybe they're just getting better?
I liked the mystery, or mysteries, in this book. What is Malfoy up to? What's a Horcrux? Who is the Half-Blood Prince? Rowling did a good job setting them up and leaving clues; in fact, I think this book might be worth a re-read to see what I missed.
And the suspense, especially at the end, was very effective. I forgot the big spoiler, so I was shocked and upset at the climax, just like all those little fourteen-year-olds who stayed up all night to finish it. (view spoiler)[I still can't quite believe it. It's a pretty bold move to kill off such a profound character. (hide spoiler)]
The romances were meh: Rowling didn't convince me that anyone is in love with anyone else, and she certainly didn't show me why.
I particularly enjoyed the characters of Dumbledore and Luna Lovegood in this book. Dumbledore's good-humoured arrogance appeals to me on many levels, and Luna is one of my favourite types of characters: someone who says true things that others are too polite or too scared to say. (See also: Cordelia and Anya on Buffy, Jayne on Firefly, Gina on Brooklyn Nine Nine, and so on. Every ensemble needs one!)...more