squirrella: (reading)
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson

I think I saw the movie when it was released to VHS, but reading the book didn't jog many memories. Anyway, I found this book waiting on our donated books cart and thought I'd give it a try. Free book, right? I cannot fully convey how undisappointed I was in this book. It was majestic, breath-taking, and everything that the reviews said it would be.

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer

Having seen the movie and become familiar with McCandless's story, reading Krakauer's account proved to be underwhelming. Certainly, there were some details that the film didn't touch on, but that's the nature of the medium, I feel. But for the most part, the book matched up to the film without fail. Where the film, however, lacked definite closure, the book delivered. Krakauer spoke with many of the people whose lives were touched by McCandless and in doing so, the loose ends were wrapped up. The old widower who meets McCandless near Oh My God Hot Springs gets in a final word or so; the rubber tramps do likewise. McCandless's parents visit the Magic Bus, seeing for the first time how their son lived and died so far away from home, and yet so close.

Krakauer's writing style borders on the lackluster, though, and I found it narcissistic that while writing this biography, of sorts, Krakauer still felt compelled to devote an entire chapter to the trials and tribulations he faced as a young man out on a foolish climb.

The movie portrayed a version of McCandless that, while true, didn't exactly capture his true spirit. A lot of the reactions I've heard (and even had) to the film have been similar: he was a foolish kid, he was a rich boy that thought he could do anything, he was stubborn, he was stupid, and so on. But Krakauer's account, while far from exhaustive, does give a more focused perspective. And while McCandless may indeed have been one or more of the things that the movie makes him out to be, he was also everything that he thought he was. Save for a few mistakes, McCandless would have likely lived in obscurity, accomplished at whatever he set his mind to. The fact that he died doesn't mean he failed, though. He died doing what he wanted to and knew all along that the risks he took throughout his 2 year sojourn might well lead to death. McCandless was genuine: he lived the life of which he dreamt. It wasn't about class or money or any one material thing, and yet, for him, it was. I'm not suggesting we all go live in the wild (it wouldn't be wild then), but I do think we can each take from this the reassurance that we don't have to sacrifice life to dream.

(I'm amused that the underwhelming book got more than the brilliant novel...)
squirrella: (reading)
Last book update was November 15th. I've since read 8 more books. Brief notes behind the cut... )
squirrella: (reading)
Necessary Madness, Jenn Crowell

While a tad too Modern Anglo for my tastes (which is hilarious since it's an English novel...), this novel still held my attention, cover to cover. I don't know if that's a testimony of a good book (it is, though, partially) or if it awakened from coma some late-teenage fantasy of writing and publishing a novel of some stature (it did, depressingly enough). Of course, there were a number of things that didn't meet my standards (I'm beginning to think that if I held friends and lovers to the same high standards I hold novels, I'd be a bitter young lady). The relationships, while nuanced, sometimes lacked dimension. The characters sometimes mimicked reality, but without effect. The grief that Gloria leads us through is tangible, but somewhat put-upon.

Much of those shortcomings can be overlooked. The scenes are typically well-crafted, if not somewhat predictable, though in the defense of authors everywhere, there are only so many believable paths a story can take before you jump genre.

I've heard that Crowell's second novel isn't as good. I'm going to judge that myself--it's on the list to read.


Sep. 20th, 2007 01:16 pm
squirrella: (reading)
Body Surfing, Anita Shreve

I want to stop reading Shreve's novels, if only because they always end up disappointing me. Body Surfing was no different, mildly predictable, played-out characters, and a lackluster plot. I was enticed by a description that mentioned some sort of bizarre fraternal love triangle, but really, the triangle was less sex (not even about sex, just no sex) and more about power and sibling rivalry.

What was interesting (if not also cloying) was the reference to other (enjoyable) works on Shreve's shelf--Sea Glass being one. That's as close as I get to series fiction, however.

The Dive from Clausen's Pier, Ann Packer

I liked most of the book and actually took it home to read (perhaps a truer measure of my enjoyment of a title--did I take it home?). The opening chapter presents what might be a more common scene than the good-hearted among us care to imagine--a couple on their way to an end suddenly facing a life-changing accident. Carrie Bell has to then wrestle with expectations and ultimately alienates much of her hometown when she leaves in the middle of the night.

The story moves from the midwest to New York and while it was written with recognizable cliches (the Loner, the walkable City, the Midwestern Girl, and so on), it was deftly done. Kilroy remains a loner, the small-town looms larger than Manhattan, and Carrie leaves with a little stain from the city, a pleasant and real reminder of her independence.

Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn

What does it say about me that I devoured this novel and loved practically every bizarre, belly-turning second? Probably that I cut my adolescent teeth on secreted V. C. Andrews books...

The story starts out strongly, small-town girl made big-city reporter is assigned to cover a pair of murders that happened in her small-town. A familiar enough plot, Flynn gives us not just another starry-eyed girl made big, but a broken girl, reluctant to return home and unable to articulate exactly why.

While home, Camille visits old ghosts, fucks the lead investigator as well as the lead suspect (two different people), and solves the case. Described that way, it's a fairly straight-forward thriller/mystery. As the story unfolds, though, the bizarre twistedness unfurls like a tired, fading flag. It's the sort of thing that had me saying to myself, "This is not about to happen..." And it happened.

It's hard to say whole-heartedly that a book about pre-pubescent murdered girls is good, but this one works. Well-written, but not for the weak-minded.

Next up: What to Keep, Son of a Witch, The Way the Crow Flies, and Necessary Madness. I'll be packing at least one of these for the Hershey trip next week!!!
squirrella: (reading)
I'm missing two books, I think. I feel like I've read at least two other books, but since I fell out of the habit of recording them as I read them, I've forgotten them. For now, at least.

Short and sweet, four behind the cut... ).

So, I'm now up to 40/60 books for the year. I'm currently reading Body Surfing by Anita Shreve (eh, so far it's engaging). Next will be the above-mentioned Son of a Witch. Beyond that--any recommendations?


Aug. 22nd, 2007 05:08 pm
squirrella: (reading)
I'm out early from work tonight (t-minus 52 and counting) and then I'm off tomorrow and Friday (as well as Saturday and Sunday). Holy sweet g-spot, how am I ever going to manage FOUR DAYS OFF IN A ROW?

Book review behind the cut. I'm keepin' it short and sweet-ish because I've got very little time to do this, but if I don't do it now, it won't get done, and I'm forgetting shit quicker than I'm shitting shit. Miss Heather, how can you type so fast? )
squirrella: (reading)
The Passion, Jeanette Winterson
PW review )

This slim story wastes few words and its fantastic elements are palpable. As an overt fantasy, I found myself entertained more than annoyed (my normal reaction to fantasies). I think the historical setting helped, though a Napoleonic scholar would likely hate this book. Then again, a Napoleonic scholar would hate most of the books I've read... The story lines cross neatly, and the characters hold up both independently and together. I would definitely try another of her novels.

The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard
Booklist )

Hazzard's previous novel, The Transit of Venus remains among my favorites. I was hesitant and excited to read this latest one; I found I was not disappointed. Hazzard takes her time writing the story and telling the story. Each word is deliberate, like each step Leith takes as he crosses East Asia. The story is dense, classic literature at its best.

Divisadero, Michael Ondaatje
PW Review )

If you like a happy ending, or, an ending period, this novel is not for you. Multiple stories weave in and out, almost imperceptibly, and the most observant reader will note the similarities across miles and decades. Events happen chronologically for the characters, but events are revealed in a more emotional timeline--we learn when we are allowed to, keeping the characters omnipotent and the reader waiting and discovering. I read The English Patient, but never really got into the book--perhaps because of the movie, perhaps because of something else. Divisadero is the rare novel that I want to reread immediately.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

I read about half of this book before giving up. It just wasn't interesting to me.

The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig

This is another book that I couldn't get into. I read about a third of it before I convinced myself that I didn't need to waste my time.

So soon?!

Jul. 6th, 2007 01:54 pm
squirrella: (reading)
The Sea, John Banville
Publisher's Weekly review )

I started this on my lunch hour yesterday, after seeing it on my Amazon.com recommendations list, and finished it just after Mike got home from work late last night. (Remember that I've previously said I shouldn't read at home because, when I do, nothing gets done...)

Banville's book was written for me to read. It is simply, harrowingly amazing. Each word, each phrase, each sentence is a literary delight and the only reason it took me 5 hours to read this book was because I kept re-reading passages, pages, chapters, just to once again feel the full weight of the language.

It's a sensual read, embracing all of the senses and is at once set in one place and every where. It has the potential to be a timeless read--there aren't many contemporary allusions and the book doesn't fuss itself into some genre it's not. And because of this, and more, The Sea is one of those rare books that I will be able to read again, sooner than later.

There are twists to the story, and one that's all together unpredictable at the end. The revelations are subtle and masterfully executed, a footnote to the imagery and story.

In some ways, I was reminded of James Joyce when I read this, and perhaps some of that can be attributed to the nationality of Banville--he's Irish, too. But I think it was more than that. The descriptions, the characterizations, the whole of it is sparse, yet rich, a constant pulsing contradiction. As I languished in the last 40 pages last night, I took note of this: After dinner Miss Vavasour clears the table in a few broad fanciful passes--she is altogether too good for this kind of menial chore--while the Colonel and I sit in vague distress listening to our systems doing their best to deal with the insults with which they have just been served. How thoroughly proper and yet base that sentence.

The Sea is a book of remembering and, also, learning to remember. If you're a fan of literature, modern or classic, read this.
squirrella: (reading)
All He Ever Wanted, Anita Shreve
Publisher's Weekly review )

At times pansy-assed, this is a story of refined obsession. As more of Van Tassel's character is revealed, I found myself feeling more and more sorry for him. I boo'ed at Etna's agreement to marry him, but cheered when her secret cottage was revealed (though, to be clear, that whole storyline could have used about 50 more pages of development).

The book is written almost as one of the early 1900s and successfully comes off as a tribute to that time--the language, the affectations, the ideas. There are some inconsistencies, but they aren't glaringly obvious.

Since the story is written as Van Tassel's memoir (composed en route to a funeral in Florida), the timeline shifts inconsistently and it often becomes unclear just what is happening when. Van Tassel speculates much too much on his wife's activities and those passages read more like pseudo-Victorian porn than anything else.

Overall, a decent read, especially if you've got nothing else to do. I biked home with this book in my pack a couple of nights and read it before drifting off to la-la land.
squirrella: (reading)
Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz
Publisher's Weekly review )

I liked this book for the most part, though the story became convoluted towards the end. I don't have anything to add to the PW review.

Gravedigger's Daughter, Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher's Weekly review )

If you liked The Falls (and I did, for the most part), then you'll probably like this novel. The scenes of abuse might be triggering for some, but are well-done and brutal.

The Night Journal, Elizabeth Crook
Publisher's Weekly review )

The best part of this book is by far the journal entries. The modern characters are shallow, the grand-daughter/grandmother relationship is overwrought and underwhelming, the love interest is obvious from the introduction of that character, and the ending is predictable from about page 50. I would have rather read a book based on Hannah's journals, or a book narrated by the grandmother moreso than the grand-daughter. I did like that Meg eventually learned of her family's history, but that didn't really improve my overall impression with Meg's character. The chick-lit aspect is a real turn-off for me and I could have done without the angst-y passages where Jim and Meg sleep in separate motel rooms and wait, wondering if the other will come knock on the door. The chick-lit doesn't fit the rest of the story.

The Slow Moon, Elizabeth Cox
Publisher's Weekly review )

Predictable story of a teenage party gone wrong. Very predictable and not really satisfying... The worst part is the high school boy (Tom) characterized as an angry young homo. I don't like his character--I imagine him microwaving frogs as a pre-teen. I can understand the idea that not all homos are flaming, but this character seems self-destructive and self-centered. I was offended by this character, but I think if perhaps more time was spent developing his story, it might have been a more interesting read. The ending was hokey and made me almost regret reading this story, though my options at the time of reading this were to listen, instead, to the conversations of other jurors-in-waiting...
squirrella: (reading)
Mona Lisa Awakening, Sunny
Publisher's Weekly review )

Wow. The review makes this book sound good, as in good, as in "yes, I came--three times. Did you?" Recommended to me by another librarian, I thought, I'd give it a try. I was so incredibly disappointed! There's absolutely no character development--Mona Lisa "discovers" her tru identity? I'd like to know where in the story *that* happens... It's just a bunch of sex--sex for fun, sex for healing, sex until their inner lights start glowing (yes, they fuck and they glow. It's apparently beautiful.).

I was actually fine with the all the sex--I mean, we all need a break from pseudo and real literature. Sometimes, a well-written fuck scene is good, as in good, as in... well, you get the picture. But, you're not going to find that here. Instead, there're lots of pulsing manhood and thick shafts and rape scenarios (at one point, while in the Monère's hands, Mona Lisa's captors threaten to rape her since she's a half-breed. And while Mona Lisa thinks this is bad, she eventually convinces herself that being fucked by force and against her will could actually turn out to be HOTT.).

I'm not a fan of fantasy and this book definitely further soured that pot. Not recommended at all.

Sea Glass, Anita Shreve
Review from Publisher's Weekly )

After reading The Pilot's Wife, I was curious to try something else by Shreve. Sea Glass does not disappoint. Much.

I was particularly shattered by the twist at the end, though I will say that having things happen the way they did was, while sad, ultimately much better. In the beginning, the multiple stories seem to be completely unrelated--what does a deaf mill worker, a socialite, and a typewriter salesman have in common? Shreve deftly weaves the the lives of these characters into one fine fabric.

I was disappointed to end this book--it was a natural read full of ordinary people. Much of Shreve's descriptions produced vivid images and enhanced the rawness of the characters. Considering that many of the reviewers heralded Sea Glass as Shreve's best-to-date, I'm hesitant to explore more of her work. I think I'll take a break from Shreve, let the characters dissolve, and then return to her novels in August.
squirrella: (reading)
The Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton
Review from PW )

I turned each page of this book waiting to have some great tragedy revealed, but in the end, this was just a story about a sad and stifled young woman. Which, I suppose, is the ultimate tragedy, after all. The final pages, where the reader learns about the final showdown between May and Ruby, are disturbing. But, by that point, nobody should truly be surprised that what happens happens.

Contrary to the review, Hamilton has crafted a sparse yet luscious novel that reveals the human spirit at its most base level. Though set in the midwest, I was able to envision parts of my hometown and I could imagine the faces of former neighbors.

I think the "incomplete rendering" that the review references is actually just part of Ruth's character. By providing the reader with a limited view of the associated characters, we actually are able to better understand Ruth. I think if these other characters had been further developed the book would have suffered. In fact, the revelation of the relationship between Sid and Matt diminished the overall story for me--but mostly because of the way it was done. The last third of the book seemed to be perhaps over-edited or underdone, and the Sid/Matt revelation is just one example of the less than startling ending.

I've enjoyed two of Hamilton's novels, now, and I'm planning on reading whatever else she has.
squirrella: (reading)
On/Off, Colleen McCullough
Booklist review )

I read The Thorn Birds sometime in 2000-01 and was initially impressed with McCullough. Additional selections of this author's work, however, didn't appeal to me and I lost interest in her writing. I use Fiction Connection (through Global Books in Print, one of our databases) to guide me towards my next book, so imagine my surprise when the recommended similar read (similar to what, I can't remember...) was On/Off. After reading the jacket, I thought it was at least worth a try.

The hardest thing to overcome, initially, was the story read as a British detective story in the early chapters. I had to continually remind myself that this was set in New England, not Jolly Olde England. Once I got settled into the story, this wasn't a problem. Which was good, since there were plenty of other problems to deal with. Like, for instance, Lt. Delmonico made me salivate for grill medium steaks while his love interest (pegged from the first meeting, in my head) annoyed me with her Australian/American/English accent. Desdemona Dupre. What a terrible name. What a terrible character.

The serial killer was too predictable and it became obvious when next s/he would strike. As twisted as this might sound, I would have preferred more development of the killer. As it was, the killer's reveal was something of a let-down, an after-thought, a lack-luster end to an otherwise forgettable book.

More annoyances: the university in the book is called Chubb. I giggled like a schoolgirl whenever I read Chubb. The place where the first body part is found (but not the first body disposed of) is called the Hug. Apparently, this nickname is supposed to be derogatory, some sort of back-stab by a slighted colleague at Chubb. But, it's hard to take any of it serious. The characters, even Delmonico, are under-developed. What is revealed is largely only surface information, or it's characterization that is so overdone, you have to question you very existence for living. Yeah. I didn't like this book.

But, to be fair, I'm not a fan of detective stories. While nearly all novels have a predictable format (beginning, middle, climax, end), I prefer my stories to be way less predictable. I like to read novels that, once finished, I either want there to be another 100 pages or I want to start the same book over again just to taste it once more. If I were giving stars, this would be 2 out of 4. It was readable and, believe it or not, mostly enjoyable (once I shed my literary snobbishness).

The Night Listener, Armistead Maupin
Booklist review )

A few weeks ago, on the extra ABC cable channel we get, I settled on watching an old episode of 20/20 about a sickly and abused foster child that somehow managed to beat the odds and was living and breathing despite his real parents' sexual deviancy and the fact that the boy contracted AIDS through pedophilic activities. Disturbing as that story is, the show was presenting something even worse: the speculation that the foster mother had fabricated the whole thing, right down to the most sordid of dirty details. By the end of the show, when I learned there had been a book written about one of the duped's experiences with "Tony", I went into my library account from home (YOU CAN DO THAT, YOU KNOW?) and reserved a copy of Maupin's story.

Since this story has a twist at the end--one that could be perceived as subtle and thus missed if not read carefully (as in, you start skimming the last few pages because you're sure you know where this one is going, damn it), I'm not going to give away too much of the details here. The things that I'd complain about... well, they are somewhat superfluous at the end. I will say that the twist is a bit of a dirty trick and that if the lines between reality and fiction are going to be blurred, the writer has to truly be a skilled craftsman. It's not that Maupin is unskilled, but the ending jerks a little too much to be smooth. I felt a little shorted when the twist was revealed. I felt lied to and, on some level, betrayed. But, perhaps that's the whole point, given the basis for this stranger-than-fiction tale.

The Pilot's Wife, Anita Shreve
Booklist review )

What I liked about this book was the behind-the-scenes look at air-craft tragedies. That sounds bizarre, but it's not. Reading about it, instead, revealed humanity in its fragile state. But, reading about it also confirmed the mechanicalness of dealing with souls lost during flight.

What this story suffers from, again, is predictability. With the climatic place crash out of the way, the possibility of the husband's double-life is expected. Also, from the moment the investigator enters the scene, it is obvious that there will be a romantic interlude between him and Katharine (how annoyingly amusing it is, then, that his name is Hart. har har.).

In a lot of ways, this story reminded me of Hoffman's Blue Diary (and, in fact, this book may be the connection in my fiction tastes presently): double-faced history, secrets, unknown pasts. The different is the dead Lyons is balancing the double-life all at once; Hoffman's story took place in two separate and distinct times, a before and after of sorts.

I'm interested to read other books by Shreve. Her writing borders on literature: it's well-crafted, not over-cliched, and there doesn't seem to be a sort of writers' fear of writing outside the box. The characters could stand more development, but they're not so malnourished as to make the story itself suffer. I found it easy to lose myself in the pages and difficult to stop reading at the end of my lunch hour. If that's not a good review, then what is?

Next up: Hamilton's Book of Ruth (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] frog_lady), followed by the colleague-recommended Mona Lisa Awakening, an erotic fantasy that better be heavy on erotic and light on fantasy, lest I lose interest...
squirrella: (reading)
Abide with Me, Elizabeth Strout
Review from New Yorker )

After reading her first novel, I was hungry for anything else by Strout, so imagine my delight when I found her follow-up in our recent fiction. While this story doesn't pack the same fire as Amy and Isabelle, it's still remarkably written and crafted. When I read the jacket, I was sure that reading this story about a grieving minister would prove to be an exercise in boredom--I mean, really, how exciting can a minister in 1959 New England be?

Strout seems to have developed a trademark style in just two novels: as in her first, she succinctly exposes the reader to several characters without seeming trite or concocted. This same technique I found in an Oates' novel and couldn't finish the book because the flitting back and forth proved distracting at best. I think the reason it works for Strout is she doesn't write the entire novel this way, but rather, invests short segments to multi-character parts. It works, also, because it seems to capture small-town life. In both Strout's novels, the gossiping town has played its own role in the story and the short bursts of other, secondary characters lends itself well to this.

I don't feel like Caskey reaches any sort of recovery (as another review mentions), but I do think he finds himself on the way. He spends a lot of time contemplating not God but Bonhoeffer, which I suppose could be considered a contemporary interest. However, for a minister that seeks out The Feeling, not a lot of time is spent actually seeking. Of course, who am I to judge; and it can be argued that Caskey's contemplations on Bonhoeffer as well as his inability to see outside of himself are all part of how he rediscovers The Feeling.

Overall, a wonderful novel. Not nearly as good as her first, but I think that's more because of the subject (the first one had SEX!, this one had God).

Books '07

Apr. 3rd, 2007 11:16 am
squirrella: (reading)
Blue Diary, Alice Hoffman
Review From Publishers Weekly )

What I liked about this book was that it wasn't as whimsical as some of Hoffman's other pieces. I was, however, annoyed by the relentless chipper descriptions of Ethan and his do-no-wrong self, and I don't know that all that build-up necessarily foretold the "fall". I think there could have been a more subtle way to craft this story. Instead, it was largely predictable. Not a bad read, but not something that makes me want to run out and read the rest of the author's shelf here.

Since I finished this one sometime early last week or late the week before, I included the review here. Sadly, I've forgotten some of the details and I needed to sort of remind myself what the story was about, in general. Part of that could be because I spent the last few days inert and feverish; part of that could just be about the book. Anyway, I kinda like the idea of having the review in the entry, so I think from now on, I'll include the reviews--if only for my own use.
squirrella: (reading)
The Painted Kiss, Elizabeth Hickey

Clearly a debut novel, this book suffers from several things, least among those is character development. The story alternates between two distinct time periods: 1944 and the late 1800s. Predictably, 1944 is all about escaping, rationing, making do, and black-out curtains. It's a storyline that's been done before and better and really only serves as a distraction in this novel. The earlier period begins in 1886 when Emilie Floge meets Gustav Klimt. Somehow, the 12-year-old Emilie falls under the spell of the controversial libertine and before long, she's become his lover. But, she's not the only one and so the reader has to sift through half-hearted jealousy for much of the novel ("He can have Adele, Adele can have him--I do not like Gustav Klimt," then, "I shall perish without him. If only he'd paint me again!").

If you're mad for Austrian historical fiction, check this out. Otherwise, wait and see if it's made into a movie.
squirrella: (reading)
Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver

I LOVE Barbara Kingsolver. Her books are something you find yourself immersed in, one second turning the page, the next second in the story. I read The Bean Trees last year and wasn't disappointed with that, either.

Animal Dreams is about two sisters (twin-like in their closeness) and how each finds her way, though that way leads them in vastly different directions. Hallie ends up in Nicaragua while Codi finds herself returning home, ostentatiously to keep an eye on her aging and ailing father. The story focuses largely on Codi's point of view, with occasional flits from her father. The father's chapters grasp the feeling of an Alzheimer's patient and you can also get some impression of what life must have been like for the two "orphaned" daughters (single father, an "outsider", orthotic shoes, and the like). Much of the story is centered around Codi's sense of loss (she loses her mother early, she loses some key memories, she loses her cool while in medical school, she loses her long-time boyfriend, she loses her sister, she loses a baby), but Codi's story is also about getting over that loss.

Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult

This book had every reason to go south: judge/cop romance, school shooting, geeks vs. jocks, and so on. But Picoult writes a decent story nevertheless. While I predicted that Alex Cormier and Patrick would be dating (or at least having sex) by story's end, the road to that relationship was less predictable. The same can be said for the shooter's development--I don't think any reader would be surprised to learn that Peter Houghton is the shooter--the pale skinny kid with glasses. What holds the story together, believe it or not, is the judge's daughter Josie. Both outcast and popular, Josie's story unfolds between alternating chapters--a format that could discourage some readers that prefer a more linear tale. Overall, character development wasn't that great and I think part of that can be attributed to the jumpiness of the story: first it's the day of the shooting, then it's the month before, then the month after, then 5 months before, then 19 minutes (the title) after, then 5 months later, and so on. A lot of effort is required to keep those story lines straight when writing, and so I think character development failed because of this (Josie, early on, is presented as suicidal. This doesn't make much sense until you get to the end and the true nature of her Oh-So-Perfect relationship is revealed...).

That said, I would recommend Picoult's latest--despite its flaws, it's well-crafted and presents an otherwise overwrought tale in a fresh way.
squirrella: (reading)
Amy and Isabelle, Elizabeth Strout

This story could have ended halfway through and I would have been content with that. Instead, it went on, way past where I would have expected it to end, and each additional page felt like some secret reward. Strout writes deliberately and without trite language. She's able to masterfully capture the feel of both the single mother and her sordid past as well as the teenage daughter and her sexual awakenings. While predictable in spots (I knew that Isabelle would eventually reveal her past and that it would be somewhat identical to that of her daughter's present), there were a number of twists that were not foreseen (or, rather, a number of false predictions). The final scene between Amy and Mr. Robertson was typical, yet still (I typed stiff, LOL) fresh enough that I had to read it twice before deciding to read it once more. And while teacher-student relationships are wrong, I still found myself hoping that this one would be different, sort of similiar to Amy's slight obsession.

Strout incorporates the New England summer well, presenting it almost as its own character, alongside the small town snobs and busybodies that surround the tangibly difficult relationship between mother and daughter. Amy, in high school, is already at odds with her mother, as well as the world. It isn't until the new teacher takes a special interest in her that Amy blooms (trite as that may sound, it's true). Isabelle grapples with wanting to destroy her daughter, thus ending the possibilities of continually repeating the same pattern, and embracing the child she can still see in her daughter.

Things that I expected to happen but didn't:
Amy and her pregnant friend experimenting sexually.
Mr. Robertson being the local killer.
Amy and Paul driving off in search of Mr. Robertson.
Mrs. Robertson murdered by Amy or Mr. Robertson.
Isabelle to turn into Carrie's mom, or Sibyl's mom or Mommie Dearest.
Amy to commit suicide, Stacy to then take Amy's place with Isabelle.

As I read it, I tried to visualize the characters, cast the movie based-on-the-book, if you will. For Fat Bev, I imagined the housekeeper from Two and a half Men. Mr. Robertson would have been Ryan Gosling, Isabelle Toni Collette. I Googled the book (as I do for almost everything) and was briefly excited to find that a movie had already been made. Then I read the entry at IMDb and found myself awash with disappointment: Oprah Winfrey as executive producer? Elisabeth Shue as Isabelle? Some really old guy as the teacher--as if old teacher and young student isn't played out. I was tickled to find I'd appropriately cast Fat Bev, though. I would gladly read this again, but I'll pass on the made-for-TV movie.

Next up: Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams.


Feb. 9th, 2007 09:39 am
squirrella: (reading)

Every Visible Thing, Lisa Carey
The reviews I read on this book consistently cited Carey's narrative style as a negative feature in this book.  However, for this story, it worked particularly well.  I particularly like bildungsroman novels, and while this one isn't exactly true to that genre, it has some elements nonetheless.  The narration is split between the two children, Owen and Lena, and they expose the reader to life in the shadow of an older brother's unexplained disappearance.  Both children struggle with identity--Owen explores his sexuality, Lena explores gender-roles--and neither character seeks out conformity.  The parents in this story are largely absent, hung up, still, on the loss of their eldest son (presumed dead).  Where RwS presented similar themes, EVT is a well-woven tapestry of the grief, growth, and living.  It's because of this book that I'd consider reading other things by Carey (though, as already written, I'm not a fan of The Mermaids Singing...).

A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton
This book was a pleasant surprise.  As I mentioned in the last book post, I'm not a fan of reading Oprah-approved books, if for no other reason than Oprah says they're good reads.  I know, I know--that's as bad as selecting a book based on its cover (which is something I absolutely do all the time....).  The story was slow to start and had the makings for an uninteresting read: farm-life, monosyllabic husband, chipper wife, two girls, friends, etc.  But after the friends' daughter drowns in the farm's pond, things start to pick up, especially after two McGruffs speak with Mrs. Goodwin at a school meeting.  I'm not a fan of legal reads, though I've read my share of Grisham and the like.  And even though a considerable portion of this book is devoted to legal proceedings, I found it hard to put down at the end of my lunch.  Part of that might be because the reader's privy to the accused's point of view: "narrated first by Alice, then Howard, and then Alice again, A Map of the World moves from intimate domesticity to courtroom drama with grace and subtlety. "
At the recommendation of FListers, I'll definitely check out other books by Hamilton. 

More books

Feb. 1st, 2007 11:37 am
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Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs
Hilariously disgusting, this book was my bedtime reading. I read a few chapters every night and found the each to be car-crash-rubbernecking interesting. At times, I felt I should look away, skip over this or that part; at other times, I wanted more details. Not the best book I've read lately, but a worthy read. If you like dysfunctional novels, and aren't grossed out by reading slightly homoerotic passages, definitely try this book.

The Mermaids Singing, Lisa Carey
I got this book through reserves at my library and immediately set about reading it yesterday at work. I made it through the fifth chapter (they're short), and then put the book down. Reading it, I couldn't help but be reminded of another similar story and then imagined that at some point, I'd been on some mermaid-myth-Irish-pirate-three-generations-of-estrangement-novel-reading kick. And, I'm just not in the mood for that type of read right now.

Then, I went home, prepared to finished RwS, and spied on my bedside bookcase Carey's book. I had a bookmark about halfway through the book which means either I stuck it in there at random, or I got halfway through the book some 4 or 5 years ago and then called it quits. I'm going with the second option. I'm also returning my borrowed copy and likely selling my personal copy.

A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton
I started this after deciding Carey's book wasn't for me. It's another Oprah pick, which should be an immediate turn-off--yet, for some reason, I cannot stop gravitating unconsciously to the Oprah picks. I'm up to page 35 and I'm slightly hooked... I'll read up through 50 or 75 and see how I feel then.

Next up, Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout. I've read good reviews about this '98 book, so I'm eager to see if it is worth the hype.


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