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Elizabeth's Reviews

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message 1: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jun 17, 2010 08:34AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) OK, I'll start my thread. I usually review my books, so I'll copy and paste. I've begun with what I've read in 2010, perhaps I'll go back to some older ones later.

message 2: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jun 17, 2010 08:01AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner 5 stars

As I read this, I thought, "this is about a 4 star read." So why did I give it 5 stars? It is such a beautiful book, that's why. There were many parts that didn't seem to move along, which is why I thought I would be stingy, but I'm so very glad the author took his time. And I felt myself talking to the characters, mostly Susan. "Don't be so removed from your life - how many do you get?" Could I be so involved with a story and not give it 5 stars?

This would definitely be on my Top Ten List

message 3: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jun 17, 2010 08:01AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford 4 stars

I couldn't bring myself to give this 5 stars after just finishing Angle of Repose. But trust me, it's at the top of 4 stars. WWII stories are seldom set in the US, so at the start this is different from others in this genre. The author has told his story well and given us things to think about: family loyalty/honor, bigotry, freedom to be oneself, among them. Oh, and it's all wrapped in a nice little love story, leaving the central character at the corner of bitter and sweet.

This was a CoL club read, feel free to add to the discussion here:

message 4: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jun 17, 2010 08:01AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Middlemarch by George Eliot 5 stars

I expected to like this book. Not only was I not disappointed but it was better than I had anticipated. Was it a truly old-fashioned romance novel? Well, there was a bit of that, admittedly. My favorite quote: "Dorothea had not distinctly observed but felt with a stifling depression, that the large vistas and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of finding in her husband's mind were replaced by ante-rooms and winding passages which seemed to lead nowhither."

This was a chunky read at CoL, you can find the discussion here:

Elizabeth (Alaska) Firefly Summer by Maeve Binchy 3 stars

I love Maeve Binchy, but she just doesn't write 5 star reads and very few 4 star reads, I think. Still, this was the perfect book for me at this time. Set in a small town off the beaten path, we are reminded that the life was, indeed, innocent. Not that Binchy doesn't have nefarious characters, mind you, or that everyone is a do gooder, but that trying to get through life putting your best foot forward was the norm.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon 4 stars

A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks.

Thus begins this charming little book. And little it is at only 135 pages. If I mention too much here it would spoil the story. Let me say this much: I moved my dictionary to my bedside, where it probably should always have been. I've added to my vocabulary speleology, echolalia, and aspergillum, each used in a highly amusing manner.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf 3 stars

I'd call this a Jodi Picoult wannabe. It dealt with a couple of interesting subjects and there was a lot of plot/suspense, and if you like that, you might like this better than I did. Not enough characterization for my taste. I cared about the children, but the adults were written with too much stereotyping. I think the author doesn't particularly care for men, and this is irritating since I find men, for the most part, lead very interesting lives.

Elizabeth (Alaska) City of Thieves by David Benioff 5 stars

A story that combines excellent characterization and a suspenseful plot. Not too many characters in this one, which gave the author the ability to nearly fully develop the two main characters. The author was able to capture the terror of war, yet was able to offset this terror with some humor. The main characters are young men, Kolya and Lev. I have seen this described as a coming of age story. I don't know what that is - the path to maturity being neither straight nor common. It is a story of friendship, and certainly Lev, particularly, learns more about life and himself. I'm not sure it makes a full 5 stars, but to say that it is only 4 stars would be unfair.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson 2 stars

I'm being generous giving it 2 stars, which it gets only because the writing is better than decent. The story, however, is horrible, many of the events disgusting, revolting. The male protagonist is apparently a hunk, although no words indicate this is so, because every female in the story falls in bed with him. The title character is completely unbelievable as written.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Howards End by E.M. Forster 4 stars

Published in 1910, this book gives a glimpse of the period between Queen Victoria and The Great War. It starts a bit slowly and for a few pages wondered why I'd decided to read it. As I turned the pages, though, it got better and better. The book has more characterization than plot, but does have both. Mostly, however, it has been described as a book of ideas: Capitalism, Socialism, Women's Suffrage, but also practicality, imagination, passion for living. In the scheme of "characters I'd like to know" comes Margaret Schlegel.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Flying Finish by Dick Francis 3 stars

Fun read, but I couldn't possible give it 4 stars like some others that I've read. This was for the Reading with Style Challenge.

(Dick Francis is an award winning mystery writer. His stories always involve horses and the business of horses in some way.)

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver 4 stars

Barbara Kingsolver's debut novel shows us what a treat her writing is. Her characters feel deeply. However, I thought the story itself a bit thin and predictable and this one would be toward the lower end of my 4-star ratings.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada by Thomas B. Costain 3 stars

Non-fiction isn't my usual fare, but having read Costain before, I was pretty sure this would be OK, which it was. The only reason I gave it just 3 stars is that it doesn't really compare to good fiction (but it's pretty darn good non-fiction!). The first 80 years of Canadian history was a swashbuckling time, full of adventure and plenty of colorful characters. I connected on two fronts: great great grandparents on my maternal line settled first in Canada before the line coming here; this story ended with New Englander William Phips going to Canada to fight and I had ancestors who were with him.

Elizabeth (Alaska) A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway 3 stars

Somehow I expected more from Hemingway, but this is an early work. I read both For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea many years ago. Perhaps I was not so demanding, but somehow an author of this caliber should write complete sentences. That he frequently did not annoyed me no end. Surely I would have noticed this in his others. I felt he didn't properly lay the groundwork for the love story, nor for the deep war friendships. The dialog was atrocious. In the end, of course, it's a marvelous story and one worth telling if for no other reason that it is supposed to be autobiographical. Thus, it explains so much of Hemingway.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Scoreless Thai by Lawrence Block 4 stars

I wouldn't normally give anything in this genre 4 stars, but Larry Block writes such fun books that it's hard to deprive him. This is one of his earliest works with Evan Tanner the leading man.

(Lawrence Block is an award winning mystery writer, who writes with great wit. He has several main characters. He is a marathon walker working to walk a marathon in all 50 states. I met him at a racewalking clinic several years ago, just after he had attended his 50th high school reunion.)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Crow Lake by Mary Lawson 4 stars

This was given to me by a friend and is better than I expected. Am I on a roll? A story of family love and sacrifice coupled with a love for the outdoors. I learned things about pond life; that kids who live in the country can appear to be lying around doing nothing while they're learning things we're probably not teaching in school. And, of course, there was a learning about yourself and life with others aspect too.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty 5 stars

Smithson Ide is 43 years old, and at 5'11" weighs 279 pounds. He has never been married and on the opening pages is ending his vacation at a cabin in Maine with his parents. Smithy has buried his emotions in alcohol, but the circumstances of his life change in the moment when his parents' car hits the center divider on their way home. Told alternating the past with the present, this is a wonderful debut novel of self-discovery. The prose isn't quite what I'd normally want for a five star novel. However, it is told in the first person, and the simpler style definitely works to help convey characterization.

Elizabeth (Alaska) That Night by Alice McDermott 3 stars

This book appears on Anita Shreve's Top Ten list and I chose to read it for one of the tasks of the Summer Challenge. The central character of the story is a teenaged girl, whose father died suddenly. She has trouble coping with this loss and seeks solace in the arms of a boyfriend. Interestingly, the narrator of the story is a 10-year old neighbor who is placed in the role of observer, not just of teenaged Sheryl, but of the adults in the neighborhood too. A high 3 stars, but can't compete with my 4 star reads.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The 39 Steps by John Buchan 4 stars

I know Hitchcock made a movie of this, but somehow I'd seen only bits and pieces of it on TV. Lots of plot and twists and turns in this. It was fun.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks 4 stars

Excellent, but a bit too long and wordy for more than 4 stars. Banks insists this is fiction, but it is obviously so well researched that the reader feels it is fact. The narrator is John Brown's third son, Owen Brown, and through him we are given insight into the life and times of that famous abolitionist.

A CoL chunky read, the discussion is here:

Elizabeth (Alaska) Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran 3 stars

This was just OK. For most of the book, Cleopatra Selene is a child, though a precocious child. We are given a glimpse into the most patrician of Roman households. It has obviously been well-researched. I prefer The First Man in Rome.

(A friend asked "why" to my preference, to which I replied: First Man is much better written, for one thing. The characterizations are better. I want to say "much" better - McCullough wrote a more complex novel. For most of Moran's novel I was thinking this should be classified as YA. I didn't feel as though I, the reader, was being treated as an adult.)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Tara Road by Maeve Binchy 4 stars

There is a reason this made Oprah's list. Can women see themselves as something other than wife or mother or someone's lover? Can they ever hope that others will? Tara Road is more than Binchy's usual good yarn about good people.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Testimony by Anita Shreve 4 stars

The story is told from the viewpoint of several characters. This literary vehicle has become quite common of late and doesn't work as well as when it is used less often. In this book, it feels cumbersome because the author chose to tell the story from more than a dozen characters. The only reason I gave this book 4 stars, rather than three, is because the subject matter made me think about our society and a subject that doesn't truly concern me any more. (My grandchildren have passed this age and, it appears, won't be presenting me with great grandchildren any time in the near future.)

At a private high school in Vermont, the headmaster is given a video tape depicting an event with various sexual encounters between a female freshman and three upper classmen. The headmaster has come to this school to get away from a public school set in a neighborhood where violence is the norm. Why has our society become unraveled?

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri 3 stars

The author had a good nucleus of a story, and then did so little with it that it was almost painful. There were several characters, each with a story of her own and I would have been happy knowing them better. But we didn't have time for that before getting onto the next one. There was an attempt at an antagonist with the parish priest, but I was left feeling there was too little foundation for him and his opposition to the women. (OK, I'm not catholic, maybe that's part of the problem with that.) It seems that if an author fails to fully develop her characters, then there should be some really good plot. Not here, sorry. This one gets 3 stars because the descriptions are pretty good. Based on them, I wouldn't mind visiting the Irish west coast.

message 25: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (sarahsaysread) I really liked The Lace Makers, but I know what you mean. It was a very simple story... no real huge issue or climax, no huge characters. It took me a little bit to decide whether or not I liked that about it, and I decided I did. There was just something about it that I enjoyed. And it definitely made me want to visit Ireland!

message 26: by Holli (new)

Holli Thanks Elizabeth for reviewing with honesty... I am enjoying reading these from you.....

message 27: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jun 23, 2010 08:56AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh 5 stars

For the first several pages, I wondered what I'd gotten myself into and if I would want to finish. The formal language felt unfamiliar, but I came to love both the prose and the story. The story is told in the first person by Charles Ryder. In the prologue he is in the British Army at the beginning of WWII moving to a new camp, which he finds is the estate called Brideshead. Yes, he has been here before. The remainder of the novel is the telling of the circumstances of his prior knowledge of this beautiful estate.

Apparently the novel was received with much controversy when published in 1945. One can only imagine how people of that era might have felt about a book that deals with homosexuality, Catholicism, and whether or not God actually exists. In spite of those large subjects, there is a story here. Still, it is so much characterization, as is my favorite. According to Wikipedia, Waugh wrote that the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself".

This will take a spot on my yet incomplete Top Ten list.

message 28: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1308 comments I always appreciate your opinion on a book Elizabeth. Thanks so much for sharing.

message 29: by Laura (new)

Laura (apenandzen) | 1445 comments Seriously, her reviews are great. And always convincing *adds yet more to TBR*.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Ten-Year NapMeg Wolitzer 2 stars

Not much happens in this book, either in terms of plot or characterization. Several women have left their fine educations in the past to be able to have and raise children. Then somehow they feel guilty or that their family doesn't appreciate them or something. I didn't like these women at all - not because they stayed at home, but because they were so wishy-washy. I also didn't like that the book introduced politics, which I thought totally unnecessary, to say nothing of the fact that I disagreed completely with the politics. The book takes place in New York City several years after 9/11. The characters were still feeling like victims. Stop feeling victimized already. New York is just another city, not the center of the Universe. The last thing I didn't like about it was the depiction of women in their 60s who were so completely computer illiterate they didn't know how to download pictures of their grandchildren. At nearly 65, I can't tell you how much I resented this.

Elizabeth (Alaska) I realized yesterday that I've left out most of this year's 5 star reads, so adding them now.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Awakening by Kate Chopin 5 stars

I think this is a book now read in college courses, as it well should be. That women were once considered not to own their own lives, especially not their own minds, might be a revelation for those younger than about 30. This small book is beautifully written and not encumbered with the wordiness of the Victorians. I have not studied this time period - perhaps by 1899 literature was coming out from under those paragraph long sentences. This is just a delight, in spite of the ending which I could have wished different.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Eve Green by Susan Fletcher 5 stars

I think I don't like this rating system, but I guess you have to have something. Eve Green doesn't have the depth of character of Angle of Repose, for instance, nor the precise and beautiful language of Elegance of the Hedgehog. This book won the 2004 Whitbread Award for First Novel and deservedly so.

Not a love story, it is a story of love. Not just a story of human love, but a story of the love of the land as well. I will never actually visit Wales. This book gives that country light and beauty that I might never have known, and I am lucky for that.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri 5 stars

A superb collection of short stories. The first five stories are not connected in any way, the last three stories have the same characters and are time ordered. The author has given us her inspiration by quoting Nathaniel Hawthorne in his The Custom-House:

"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."

I will be reading more of this author.

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway 5 stars

This book is raw and powerful. Written in the present tense, you are with the characters on the streets of Sarajevo during the siege of 1992-1995. It isn't fun being there, but it is compelling. The cellist plays for 22 days in the crater from a shell that killed 22 people standing in line for bread. Why?

The author has taken a dark event in human history and crafted a story whose theme transcends that event and is relevant to each life in every situation: Each life is important, that self respect and self reliance are the right and duty of each of us, just as it is our right and duty to have and show respect for others.

Elizabeth (Alaska) To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee 5 stars

A classic.

(and that's the shortest review I'm likely ever to write.)

message 37: by Vicki (new)

Vicki I like your review of The Cellist. I struggle to find the words when I recommend it to someone. I can't say I enjoyed it, it seems like such a wrong choice of words for the book. I learned a lot with that book and was drawn into the story line.

message 38: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee 5 stars

A classic.

(and that's the shortest review I'm likely ever to write.)"

I want to read this one again due to it's 50th anniversary. Also Lonesome Dove

message 39: by Laura (new)

Laura (apenandzen) | 1445 comments Lonesome Dove is in my all-time faves, and I've been wanting to re-read it.

message 40: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jun 30, 2010 11:46AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Bone GardenTess Gerritsen 3 stars

An interesting medical thriller. A young woman finds a skull in her garden, which turns out to be an entire skeleton after the medical examiner's office excavates the area. But it isn't a newly buried body and a forensic anthropologist is called in who determines the bones are from the early 1800s. The story then centers on some young men attending medical school in Boston in 1830. One of the 1830 characters is Oliver Wendell Holmes - not the lawyer you might think, but his father who was a physician. I didn't expect an historical novel, and I did learn from this book. The most interesting part was learning about the state of medicine at that time. A good story with murder and mayhem in 1830 Boston. Unfortunately the author apparently didn't think this was sufficient to sell the book and threw in a modern romance. I could easily have done without that part.

message 41: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jul 09, 2010 08:17AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo 5 stars

There is a stone bridge in Venice, Italy they call the Bridge of Sighs. it connects the Doge's Palace in St. Mark's Square, where there are interrogation rooms, to an adjacent prison. Crossing this bridge, the convicts - at least the ones without money or influence - came to understand that all hope was lost. According to legend, their despairing sighs could be heard echoing in the neighboring canals.

Strangely enough, I never felt that "all hope was lost" while reading this book. Quite the contrary. Louis Charles Lynch was called Lucy all his life. The kindergarten teacher, calling the roll, called out Lou C. Lynch, he answered "here", and a student asked, "his name is Lucy?". We learn this because Lucy begins writing a memoir. As with every childhood, there is both joy and sadness.

"Bottomless need. What Miss Rosa didn't seem to understand was that this accurately described not only most children but also the scared child that lives, at least part of the time, deep inside most adults."

about parents: "You know all their secrets? What they're thinking? . . . Would you say you know them as well as you know yourself? . . . And how well would you say you know yourself?"

"Is it better to love or be loved?"

Bridge of Sighs is a book that makes you look inward, to search yourself. And when you do, you're likely to come back feeling much better about yourself.

message 42: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jul 11, 2010 07:38PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Mudbound by Hillary Jordan 2 stars

I saw this was set in Mississippi, but for some reason I chose to read it anyway. I do not like southern fiction. I do not like reading about people who call others names, and this was full of "nigger", with an occasional "cracker". It did not bear any of the dignity of To Kill a Mockingbird, there was no Atticus Finch who accepted people and thought better of them than they perhaps deserved. There were only a bunch of ignorant farmers, some of each of the usual southern colors, none of whom had enough self-respect to recognize the humanity in their fellow man. There was not one person to whom I could relate. Remind me I do not like southern fiction if you see me trying another.

message 43: by Holli (new)

Holli Wow Elizabeth... after reading what you wrote about Bridge of Sighs I really want to read that one now. Thank you!

Elizabeth (Alaska) The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie 3 stars

It's hard to believe this was my first Agatha Christie. I enjoyed it thoroughly, as I love to watch David Suchet's Poirot. Usually watching a movie or TV and then reading the book spoils the book because I'd have pictures created for me rather than using my own imagination. Not so, in this case. I loved hearing the accents in the written word. Also, one scene in the book seemed familiar to me - I decided it was the same place as the ending in The 39 Steps. I guess you can use a "movie" set over and over. I did correctly guess the murderer in this one, but that made it no less fun.

message 45: by Laura (new)

Laura (apenandzen) | 1445 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Mudbound by Hillary Jordan 2 stars

I saw this was set in Mississippi, but for some reason I chose to read it anyway. I do not like southern fiction. I do not like ..."

I love your honesty Elizabeth. So freaking refreshing. and LOL funny at times too!

message 46: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1308 comments I love to check your reviews Elizabeth. Bridge of Sighs sounds like something I better put on my list too. And I am ashamed to admit I have also never read any Agatha Christie even though I've watched Miss Marple. I love some of the British mystery series - another favorite were the Brother Cadfael series.

message 47: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jul 13, 2010 09:07AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Thank you all.

A postscript to Bridge of Sighs and Mudbound.

Interesting that I read these back to back. Bridge contained some racism, in fact one awful, horrible scene that was a bit vivid. But it was offset in a very endearing and positive manner. I think having read Bridge, followed by Mudbound, made the latter seem all the more hateful.

message 48: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jul 18, 2010 10:20AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins 4 stars

Where was Wilkie Collins when I was in school? I wish they had dug him up a bit earlier, there is a reason he was more popular than Dickens.

The Moonstone was the largest diamond known at the time, and had been stolen centuries before from a Hindu shrine, a stone which was said to catch the light of the moon and shine in the dark. When it was stolen from that shrine, a curse was said to be upon any owner of it. Until it it could be returned to its rightful place, it was under the watchful eyes of three Hindus who would gladly steal it back, murder to do so if necessary. At the outset of Moonstone, the diamond is again stolen, this time by a wealthy Englishman, who brings it back to England. So afraid he is of the curse, and the Hindus ready to steal it from him, that the diamond is locked in a bank vault for the remainder of his life. His will bequeaths it to his niece on her birthday.

And, thus, begins a truly marvelous mystery, a real page turner.

This is purported to be the first detective novel. Authors to come after Collins created a single detective to solve the crime. Collins did introduce a professional in Moonstone, but primarly he used witnesses to the scene and/or event to tell his story, just as he did in The Woman in White. His characters are all interesting, some downright amusing!

 I am what I read (embeddedinbooks) | 4853 comments Hi Elizabeth,
I had read both these books while in high school and was quite impressed. I feel like reading those again after going through your review.

message 50: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Jul 20, 2010 08:05AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg 4 stars

The story takes place in Chicago, Illinois in 1943. It centers on an Irish Catholic family - 2 parents, 3 daughters, 3 sons - that lives in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. That there was only one bathroom for a household of eight people (think of it!) was important to Kitty, the oldest daughter and narrator of the story. It was the location for numerous "scenes" throughout the book.

This is most definitely a World War II story, but told from the homefront. At first I thought this was only a light and frivolous read, maybe even a Lake Woebegone story where all the women are good-looking, but about halfway I was dissuaded. Sure, there is plenty of lace slips, mascara, and sister talk. But every night they sit at the kitchen table and write letters to servicemen. And then we are privileged to read parts of the letters that come from the servicemen, together with their hopes and dreams and the suffering of war.

The author dedicates the book to her WWII veteran father, and thanks her uncles and aunts for their contributions to her understanding of the life and times. I thank them too.

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