Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The History of Love by Nichole Krauss

I wanted to love this book, but I didn't.  The History of Love started off as a beautiful novel about two characters whose lives are woven together in such complex ways.  The story spans of period of over 60 years and takes readers from Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe to present day Brighton Beach. At the center of each main character's psyche is the issue of loneliness, and the need to fill a void left empty by lost love. Leo Gursky is a retired locksmith who immigrates to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland, only to spend the last stage of his life terrified that no one will notice when he dies. ("I try to make a point of being seen. Sometimes when I'm out, I'll buy a juice even though I'm not thirsty.")

Then it switches to the voice of fourteen-year-old Alma Singer and the book lost me.  Alma vacillates between wanting to memorialize her dead father and finding a way to lift her mother's veil of depression. At the same time, she's trying to save her brother Bird, who is convinced he may be the Messiah, from becoming a 10-year-old social pariah. I just don't care for Alma or her family.

I just couldn't get into this book. 

Rating: 1 Do Not Recommend

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

You have to be warped to enjoy this book.....and I enjoyed it...a LOT!  I have laughed out loud so much with this book. 

This is a story about an impoverished teen on an Indian reservation who has an alcoholic father and faces bullies and racism and the deaths of several close relatives as well as his dog, but don't let that make you think it is depressing as this will make you laugh.  This is a semi-autobiographical tale by Sherman Alexie, written for teen readers, that is in turns wacked-out, funny, heartbreaking, and jubilant. It is the story of Arnold, an Indian kid who has survived a precarious infancy and is growing up on a reservation outside Spokane. It is a powerful story of friendship between two teenage guys who have grown up together on the reservation. It is the story of Arnold's journey after he is persuaded by the math teacher to escape the rez school and transfer to a high school 22 miles away. This is a hysterical young adult book for teens....or seriously warped adults who are in need of a good laugh.

Rating: 4 Good

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Homestead by Rosina Lippi

This book contains interrelated stories that capture a small Austrian mountain village. Each chapter tells the story of one of the peasant women, and sometimes the real "end of the story" only comes in a future chapter.

Each woman's emotional life is laid bare in a short chapter. The course of the century leaves its mark as the wars wreak their misery even on this little isolated village, and of course the women are left to mourn. The author won a PEN/Hemingway Award for this work.  This is well written and definitely something that someone who enjoys short stories should check out.
Rating: 2 I don't care for short stories

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

I can see why this quiet book was the winner of the Giller Prize, the top Canadian book award.  The two readers did a wonderful job of doing the various male/female characters as well as capturing the Cree expressions.  This is the story of former bush pilot and Cree native Will Bird. The novel opens with Will in a coma, with his niece Annie, who just returned from an eight-month excursion in search of her sister, by his side in the hospital. Narrated by Will and Annie, the story backtracks to tell of Will's fight to keep his bush-country Indian life alive and protected while he suppresses painful childhood memories. Annie, a skillful hunter and animal trapper, tells of her escapades after rushing off to New York City in pursuit of her sister, Suzanne, a model who has shacked up with a member of the narcotics-smuggling Netmakers family. As Will struggles to survive and Annie reintegrates into the isolated bush, the two stories dovetail as the Netmakers cross paths with Will. This book has some wonderful humor in it and I enjoyed the native Cree voices and telling of their lifestyle.  I don't know if I would have enjoyed this quiet story as much if I was reading it but, on audio with the voices capturing the characters, it was very enjoyable.

Rating: 4 Recommend 

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Girls by Lori Lansens

The Girls novel is told from two viewpoints: that of Rose and that of Ruby Darlen, 29-year-old conjoined twins. Rose and Ruby are about to go down in history as the oldest surviving twins to be joined at the head. A recent medical diagnosis has spurred Rose to write her autobiography, and she encourages Ruby to do the same. Between the two sections, the story of their lives is revealed, beginning with their birth to an unwed teen mother and their adoption by Lovey Darlen, the nurse who was with their mother when she was in labor, and her strong, silent husband, Stash. The girls grow up on the Darlens' farm in rural Ontario, where Lovey refuses to accept the word of skeptical doctors who doubt the girls will ever be able to walk on their own. There is a great deal of subtlety in Lansens' narrative, and how the twins reveal the details of their lives--often one will refer to something she is sure the other has already mentioned in her section. But her biggest achievement in the novel is bringing to life these two truly extraordinary characters to such a degree that I frequently forget that I am reading fiction.  This is an entertaining read and the author has done an amazing job in making these girls come to life.

Rating: 3.5 Strong OK