Thursday, September 30, 2010

Behind

I'm very behind on reviews and I've only been posting about one a week.  Since moving into our home, we still don't have our broadband internet.  We ordered it on August 22 and we are still waiting.  We just got our phone line installed last week.  So weird!  I don't know why it takes so long here, but I'm working off of a mobile broadband card and I only have 2GB for the entire month and it is almost gone so I'm trying to conserve.  I'm hoping to be posting more regularly once my home internet is installed.

Playing with the Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl

Playing with the Grown-ups

by Sophie Dahl
published 2007
completed September 2010

Playing with the Grown-ups begins with Kitty as an adult.  She is pregnant and living with her husband in New York when she receives a phone call and leaves immediately for London.  The reader is then taken back to when Kitty was 11, living with her grandparents, aunts, twin half-siblings, and her mother Marina.  Her mother is a gorgeous, young painter and Kitty idolizes her.  Marina finds a new religion and on a whim, moves out of her parents home.  From that point forward, Kitty’s world seems to unravel.

I enjoyed the first half of this book, but about halfway through, it went downhill for me.  The writing itself, was done well, but the development of the book as a whole was lacking.  The pacing of the story was very disruptive.  Several times, something would happen, then a few line breaks, and then it’s suddenly a month later and an unrelated plot point was introduced.  The book kept switching between past and present tense, but sometimes it was unclear which time frame I was reading.

It’s difficult to explain my feelings about this book without spoilers, so skip the next two paragraphs if you intend to read it.

The relationship with Kitty and Marina was frustrating.  I have a difficult time reading about bad mothers and Marina is one of them.  Her children should have been taken away.  What mother gets angry with her daughter for taking ecstasy at a party by telling her that she should have done coke instead?  Her mother gave her coke.  She also let her hang around older men that she knew would take advantage of her daughter.  I know this is just fiction but it disturbs me to read about neglectful parents.

My other frustration was that the narrative ends with Kitty at 15.  At 15, Kitty has seen and done so much, and seems to be on a destructive path.  The next glimpse of Kitty is when she is an adult, married and pregnant, and living in New York.  How did she get there?  It was quite a leap from screwed up teenager to well-adjusted adult.

I have a low tolerance for the particular issues that were portrayed in this novel, so I wouldn’t recommend this book to any friends.  Despite that, I’m sure that there are other readers who have enjoyed it.

I picked this up so that I could fulfill part of the “All in the Family” part of the Take Another Chance Challenge.  Sophie Dahl is Roald Dahl’s granddaughter.  I am reading a collection of short stories by Roald Dahl for the other half of this challenge.  Hopefully I’ll post my review early next week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen Minutes

by Jodi Picoult
published 2007
completed September 2010

I picked up Nineteen Minutes as part of the Take Another Chance Challenge hosted by Jenners.  This particular challenge was to break a prejudice.  I became aware of Jodi Picoult when the movie My Sister’s Keeper came out in theaters.  I read the reviews and learned that it was weepy and melodramatic, so I avoided it.  I assumed that all of her books were similar and that type of book doesn’t appeal to me.  For the challenge only, I gave Picoult a chance.

Nineteen Minutes centers on a school shooting.  The title comes from the length of time the rampage of Peter Houghton lasts.  This takes place in a small and seemingly safe town.  Peter had been a victim of bullying from the time he began kindergarten.  The narrative changes points of view between several characters, and jumps back and forth between the present and the past. 

Picoult tries to lay out both sides of the argument.  Is the shooter responsible, or was this a direct result of more than a decade of bullying?  I appreciate the attempt that she made to humanize the shooter, but I didn’t buy it.  There was a disconnect between how she described Peter and the way that he acted during the shooting.  He seems cold and calculating during those nineteen minutes, but incredibly sensitive and caring before and after the shooting.

This is my first Picoult novel, but I have heard from others that there is always a twist at the end, so I wasn’t surprised when it happened.  The twist at the end really ruined it.  It was so implausible and out of character.  The writing isn’t terrible, but some of the descriptive passages made me feel like she was trying too hard with the similes.  The melodrama of all of their personal lives seemed to manipulative in trying to force an emotional response.  I can’t believe that all of those people’s lives could be that screwed up.  There was so much tragedy.

I don’t know how realistic it was in depicting high school bullying.   I never witnessed anything that extreme, but I guess it is possible.  As a mother, it was helpful to remind me of some things that I can be doing to help my children so they don’t bully or allow themselves to become victims.

Overall, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great.  I probably won’t pick up another Picoult novel, so it didn’t really break my prejudice, but at least I gave the author a chance.  I wouldn’t recommend this book, but there are many who have enjoyed it.  If you are interested in the topic of school shootings, it might be worth a read.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One Day by David Nicholls

One Day

by David Nicholls
published 2009
completed September 2010

In the opening pages, we meet Dexter and Emma spending a drunken evening together on the night of their graduation from University, July 15, 1988.  We meet up with them again each chapter, once a year, on July 15th

When I read summaries of this novel, I kept thinking that each year they happened to meet again on the very same day, which sounded incredibly unrealistic.  I was pleased to find that this was not the case.  Nicholls just gives us a glimpse into their lives on that one day each year.  I loved this choice because the facts of what happened the previous year slowly come out and you feel like you are piecing together a puzzle.

I loved Dexter and Emma from page one.  This book really sucked me in and I didn’t want to put it down.  I don’t know how Nicholls managed, but he made two deeply flawed characters come alive and made me care about them.  They felt like friends, and when they do stupid things, you still love them but feel like smacking them upside the head and saying, “Get it together!”

I don’t want to give too much away because I think it would ruin the reading experience.  This book was not predictable.  You may assume certain things will happen, but they never happen at the time or manner in which you expect them to.  One Day runs the gamut of emotions.  There is humor, joy, sadness, anger, and frustration. It is well written.  I usually end up rolling my eyes at most books with love stories because of the tired euphemisms and clich├ęs, but Nicholls doesn’t go there.  His writing is intelligent and witty.  I loved how he ended the book.  I won’t go into details, but it was perfect.

This book actually made me cry.  Not like a baby, but a few tears.  I don’t usually cry while reading books.  The only book I remember crying while reading was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver about six years ago and I was pregnant, so I blame it on the hormones.  I’m not currently pregnant, so I have no excuse.  

There are some very adult themes in this book, so I am hesitant to recommend this to everyone.  There is a lot of language and heavy drug and alcohol use.  If you are not bothered by those things, read it!  I bet you’ll fall in love with Dexter and Emma too.
  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'm Back

I disappeared for a little while, but now I’m back.  We finally moved into the home we’re renting for our two year stay in Scotland.
One of the first things I do when I move to a new town is get a library card, so last week I did just that.  Boy was I surprised when I went in.  The library in my village is teeny tiny.  The ladies that work there are very nice but the entire library was about the size of my living room in the home I just moved out of in California.
Their selection of books is not great.  They do have a reservation system online and I can request books from other libraries in the council.  That will help, but I was still surprised that there were many books that I would like to read that they simply don’t have at any of their libraries.
I did find One Day by David Nicholls and I was very pleased because it was at the top of my list of books I’ve been waiting to read.  The hilarious part is that the “N” fiction section had literally four books.  Oh, this will be a long two years as far as my reading is concerned.  I can’t complain too much though.  Their library isn’t great but my family plans to take advantage of our time abroad to travel, so maybe I won’t have as much time to read after all. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

The Girl Who Could Fly

by Victoria Forester
published 2008
completed February 2010

Piper McCloud can fly, but her parents try to keep that fact a secret.  When her secret is accidentally revealed to the community, Piper became the center of a media frenzy.  Soon after, she is contacted by the government to attend a special school for children with unusual gifts.  The school turns out to be much different than she expected.

I picked this up because my mom was reading it for her book club.  It wasn't one I would have chosen on my own, but it was a fun, quick read.  All of the characters are fantastic, but I particularly enjoyed Piper.  She is naive, but full of courage and heart.  There is a great plot twist in the middle of the novel and it made for a fast-paced story for the last half.

The one negative part for me, was Piper's mother.  It really bothered me that she discouraged Piper from flying and treated her daughter so poorly.  As a mother, I can't imagine being like that.  Shouldn't a mother champion her own children and encourage them to pursue their dreams?  Not Mrs. McCloud.

The Girl Who Could Fly is written for a slightly younger audience than the young adult genre, but I think adults will enjoy it as well.  I love the message that this book will send to young readers, that it is okay to be different.  We don't need to all be the same and hide what is unique about us because it might make someone uncomfortable.

I would recommend The Girl Who Could Fly to anyone looking for an uplifting but light read.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw

by Henry James
published 1898
completed April 2010

A young governess takes the charge of looking after two young children who have lost their parents.  The uncle is their guardian, but leaves the governess to care for them at her own discretion.  Their uncle lives elsewhere and does not want to be bothered.  Soon the governess starts to see ghosts and is concerned for the welfare of the children.

This book was just okay for me.  I didn't love it, but didn't hate it.  It didn't really frighten me.  I know there are two schools of thought with regard to this book.  Some believe that the ghosts are real, and others believe that the governess is crazy.  I am of the "she is super crazy" camp.  The governess really irritated me.  She had some serious issues pining over the children's uncle that she only briefly met.  She doted on the children, not because she cared about them, but because she thought it would put her in the good graces of the uncle.

The ending was kind of weird.  I didn't really know what to think.  I had to re-read it because I wasn't even sure what happened.  Henry James' writing is a bit difficult to process.  It takes some serious concentration.  I had just finished tax season when I read this.  Maybe my brain being fried from overuse contributed to my apathy for this book.  I don't know if I would recommend it, but I wouldn't persuade anyone not to read it.  It isn't bad, and it is super short which is a plus.  If you are so inclined, give A Turn of the Screw a try.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

by Kazuo Ishiguro
published 2005
completed July 2010

Kathy, the narrator, has finished her time as a carer and is reflecting back on her past.  She takes the reader back to the beginning, her time at Hailsham, a boarding school for special children.  Ruth and Tommy are her closest friends, and the story follows the lives of the three friends.

I can't say much more about the plot of the book because the beauty of it is in the discovery.  There is a horrifying secret that slowly unfolds to both the reader and the individuals involved.  It was disturbing, but so very, very good.  I've read many reviews that complain that Kathy is a boring narrator and lacks emotion.  To me, her matter-of-fact descriptions are what make this book so haunting.  She has accepted her path as inevitable and it is so sad.  The relationship between Tommy and Kathy was moving, but it makes the book all the more heart-wrenching.  I found myself frustrated with Ruth.  She was self-centered and in the end, not a very good friend to either Kathy or Tommy.

There are ethical issues that are brought up in this book and it really made me think.  What would I do if placed in these circumstances?  I highly recommend Never Let Me Go.

A movie version of Never Let Me Go is coming out soon and stars Carrie Mulligan as Kathy and Keira Knightely as Ruth.  I loved Carrie in An Education and I think she will do a fantastic job as Kathy.  I watched the trailer for the movie before reading it and I wish I hadn't.  Don't make my mistake!  If you plan on reading this book, avoid all spoilers.  The movie preview gives so much away.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome

by Edith Wharton
published 1911
completed August 2010

The unnamed narrator is visiting Starkfield, and comes across one of its inhabitants, a crippled and broken-spirited man, Ethan Frome.  Ethan is hired to take the man to the train station and a snow storm forces them to stay at Ethan's home through the night.  The narrator begins to piece together the story of the heartbreak and tragedy that is Ethan's life.

Ethan Frome was an intelligent man aspiring to an education but forced to remain at home to care for his ailing parents.  Zeena comes to nurse his ill mother and her support results in the her marriage to Ethan.  The marriage was of convenience not out of love.  Zeena is a hypochondriac, and Ethan finds himself trapped in a miserable marriage until Mattie, a relative of Zeena, comes to stay with them.

Ethan Frome was my first experience with Edith Wharton.  This story is tragic as are all of Wharton's novels from what I have heard, but was beautifully written.  I could feel the desperation of the situation of all of them involved.  It is a short and quick read, but after I had finished it, the story stuck with me.  If you're not afraid of tragic endings, I would highly recommend Ethan Frome.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
published
completed August 2010

The first time I read Pride and Prejudice was during the summer of 2002.  It was satisfying read but upon finishing it, I didn't give it much thought.  Fast forward six years.  My sister and my mom were telling me that I had to see the 2005 movie version with Keira Knightley because they had enjoyed it so much.  I didn't remember anything about the book so I thought I should read it again before seeing the movie.  During my second read, I was hooked.  I now own it and have read it many times since and it gets better each time.

As I said in a previous post, I just moved from California to the UK.  Most of my things are being shipped by sea, but I brought a few of my favorite books to enjoy before the rest arrived.  I had to pick up Pride and Prejudice again since it has been more than a year since I read it last.

The story focuses on the Bennett family, with their five daughters--Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia.  Because Mr. Bennet has no sons to inherit his estate, upon his death, it will pass to another male in the family, Mr. Collins.  This creates a desperate situation requiring the daughters to be married well.  Mrs. Bennet is determined to marry them off, and often pushes the boundaries of propriety in that effort.

Not much happens during the book.  Mostly they sit around and talk, but the characters and dialogue are what make this book so enjoyable.  They are so rich, and although they set in a story 200 years ago, they are still relevant.  We all know people like Mr. Collins the incredibly annoying social climber, Lydia the silly boy-crazy girl, Mrs. Bennet the overzealous embarrassing mother, and Lady Catherine the condescending know-it-all aristocrat.  They are all so irritating in the book but in a way that helps you appreciate Austen's wit.  Most of the humorous passages deal with their ridiculousness.

I love Elizabeth Bennet's and her liveliness.  Her banter with Mr. Darcy is so refreshing when compared to many of the other stuffy characters. I also love Mr. Darcy (I think I may have a crush on him).  He was prideful at the beginning, but I think he is greatly misunderstood. I think he is simply shy.  He even says in the book that it is not his talent to converse easily with those he has recently met.  I feel his pain.  I am incredibly shy and when I first meet people, I think they get the wrong impression of me.  Many mistake shyness in social settings with arrogance.  Trust me; it's not.

I would recommend Pride and Prejudice to everyone.  Much is said of the romance aspect of this book, but I think people sell this book short when they focus on that.  The social commentary and Austen's subtle humor add additional layers.  It is by far my favorite book and I will read it again and again.

As a side note, I didn't care much for the long BBC version with Colin Firth, but I loved the 2005 version. Matthew MacFadyen was incredible as Mr. Darcy.  I love Brenda Blethyn and she was perfect as the ridiculous Mrs. Bennet.  Tom Hollander stole the show with his portrayal of the socially awkward Mr. Collins.   I highly recommend the movie, but only after reading the book.