Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali

Alentejo Blue is set in a village community in Portugal, called Mamarossa. In a series of episodic vignettes, Monica Ali lays out the daily lives, hopes, wishes, and dreams of villagers and visitors alike. She captures small details that shows the person: the filthy rag that Vasco mindlessly uses to wipe the tables in his cafe as he muses about his dead American wife and what he will eat next; the smelly never-washed clothes that drunken China Potts appears in again and again. She doesn't shrink from the disgusting or the gross.  This book seems disjointed and does not flow.  I found it very disappointing compared to her previous work of Brick Lane. 

Rating: 1 Do NOT recommend

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

This book takes place in NY post 9/11.  Hans--a banker originally from the Netherlands--finds himself marooned among the strange occupants of the Chelsea Hotel after his English wife and son return to London. Alone and untethered, feeling lost in the country he had come to regard as home, Hans stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. I want to like this book but, so far, I don't.  It has beautiful writing but it hasn't grabbed me.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Plainsong follows the lives of several characters in rural Holt, Colorado - Guthrie, an honest school teacher whose wife has suffered a nervous breakdown; his two sons, Ike and Bobby, who find themselves facing death, independence, and growing up; Victoria Roubideaux, a pregnant teenager thrown out of her mother's house; the McPherons, Harold and Raymond, bachelor brothers who know more about cattle prices and corn cribs than they do about people; and Maggie Jones, the woman who connects them. 

This book just didn't grab me.  Between the simple writing, the lack of quotation marks and long, rushed sentences it was truly bothersome but, what ultimately lost me was the lack of a decent plot or character development,

Rating: 1 Do NOT recommend

Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood

I just finished this book and have two words for you:  read it.  Monica Wood writes with such stunning and thought provoking imagery that there were several paragraphs that I have slowed down and re-read savoring the words like poetry. The plot is completely unexpected and flowed smoothly from one shocking revelation to the next. The victim of a hit-and-run accident, Lizzy Mitchell is left by the driver in the middle of the median, hurt and adrift. Later Lizzie comes to see the accident as indicative of her life up to that point. Raised by her uncle Mike, a Maine priest, Lizzy grows up surrounded by his devotion to ministry.

I absolutely fell in love with Father Mike and how he raised Lizzy.  At age nine, Lizzy's comfortable world crumbles. In present day Lizzy, now a high-school counselor, is still trying to make sense of what happened. Wood's characters show refreshing depth and complexity as they each grapple with the irrefutable power of the past. This emotional story is filled with crisp, rich details that linger in the memory. Wood's stirring domestic drama is full of surprises as it explores the weighty themes of religion, perceived innocence, and the corrosive quality of best intentions.  The character development and reliving through memory is reminiscent of Crow Lake by Mary Lawson.  The plot twists kept me engrossed as, tearily, I turned the very last page. 

Rating: 4.9  Definite Recommend

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo

This is a young adult book by the same author as The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane which I loved.  In this book, DiCamillo's story centers around a mouse named Despereaux who just doesn't fit in with the other mice. He is born with his eyes opened. He sees a beautiful world that the others are blind to, and he is shunned because of it. He is able to hear music, and he is able to love creatures of other races. This tiny mouse falls in love with the human Princess Pea, and that begins quite a chain of events.

This is a dark novel. There are characters who have had little chance in life and have been harmed because of it. There are characters here who have lead dark lives and are trying to destroy Princess Pea and Despereaux. It does have an overall message of love and hope and the possibility of redemption.

I had a few issues with this book.  I wasn't sure about the narrated "Dear Reader"-style but, I can see how that helps DiCamillo break the third wall to explain to children what is transpiring.  It is VERY dark (having an adult regularly hit a child in the ears until she is deaf and has cauliflower ears???!?) and I don't think it is at all appropriate for young adults.

If you read this in your mind as if you are reading it to a child, it is a cute little story about having the courage to bring some light into the world but, again, with it being so dark, I am not sure if I would buy this for a young adult.  I also much prefered The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

Rating: 3 Ok

Monday, December 14, 2009

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I started reading this book for one of my book clubs and, so far, it is not grabbing me.  It is about the events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.  It is about two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. I just didn't grab me.  With so many wonderful books waiting for me to read, I am going to move on.

Rating: 1 Do not recommend

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars is an absorbing, thoroughly enjoyable read. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I can say that this book makes the Puget Sound come alive.  At times an interracial romance, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and a fictionalized chronicle of the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans.  Throughout it all, this book pulls the reader into an accurate rendering of life on an island in Puget Sound and makes the characters come alive. The various aspects of the novel are seamlessly interwoven into a narrative that allows the reader to embrace the plot, the characters, and the dead-on descriptions of the physical characteristics of the novel's setting.

I wanted to LOVE this book but, it felt too long.  It is great in capturing the Japanese culture, the German Americans and the Pacific Northwest but, it should have been shorter.

Rating: 3.6 OK

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

This book starts off with three different story lines that seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with each other. One story begins with a young man, Ryan, whose father assures him that he will not bleed to death as they rush to the emergency room with his severed hand in a styrofoam ice cooler. We later learn more about Ryan, he is Northwestern student who is failing all his classes and is undergoing an identity crisis of sorts when he discovers that the people he grew up with as his parents are actually his adoptive parents. Story number two is of Miles Cheshire who has spent most of his adult life looking for his brother Hayden who had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic when they were teens. But is he really? And finally we have the story of Lucy Lattimore who runs off after her high school graduation with her teacher George Orson.
All these stories are seemingly removed and unconnected and I kept wondering what they had to do with each other. But each story is interesting on its on and that draws you in and keeps your reading. It is a light easy read but, it lost me 3/4 of the way through and I was glad when I finished it.

Rating: 2.5 Do not recommend