Saturday, March 27, 2010

Elephant Winters by Kim Echlin

Elephant Winter is full of hushed wonders and harsher realities. When 30-year-old Sophie Walker returns to Canada to be with her dying 49-year-old mother, she thinks her stay will be temporary. While the two "settle into the daily business of waiting," she is drawn to her unlikely neighbors, the keeper of the Ontario Safari and his five elephants. Soon enough, in fact, Sophie falls for both Jo and his charges, and decides to record and explore elephant language and mores. Even in captivity, Sophie finds, these creatures strive for the greatest happiness and good for all, a far cry from the individualism of humans.

I really enjoyed the quiet unfolding of this book and the way the peace of the animals contrasted with the fear of living and dying.

Rating: 4.6 Recommend

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

This was a read for one of my book clubs.  At first, I was hoping it was the "Outlander" book by Gil Adamson that I just finished and adored.  I have to admit that when I found out it was the Outlander book by Diana Gabaldon featuring time-travel to 1800's Scotland and then to discover it is 650+ pages, I was less than enthused.  Then I started reading it.  It was instantly absorbing and heartwarming, and evokes the land and lore of Scotland, quickening both with realistic characters and a feisty, likable heroine. English nurse Claire and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945. When Claire walks through a cleft stone in an ancient henge, she's somehow transported to 1743. She encounters Frank's evil ancestor, and is adopted by another clan.

This book has romance, swashbuckling adventures and lots of action (as well as LOTS of sex!). Scenes of the Highlanders' daily life blend poignant emotions with Scottish wit and humor. I believe that this is one of a series of five books and based on how much I enjoyed this novel, I will be reading the others in the series.  Yet another reason why I love my book clubs as, I would never have read this book on my own.  I am glad to have had my horizons expanded by being introduced to this novel.  Thanks Najia!  If you want to lose yourself in a wonderful light easy-to-read novel that will sweep you away with the romance and adventure -- this is it!

Rating: 4.8  Recommend

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathon Tropper

Jonathan Tropper writes compulsively readable, laugh-out-loud funny novels - if you enjoy dark humor....which I do! Judd Foxman is oscillating between a sea of self-pity and a "snake pit of fury and resentment" in the aftermath of the explosion of his marriage, which ended "the way these things do: with paramedics and cheesecake." Foxman is jobless (after finding his wife in bed with his boss) and renting out the basement of a "crappy house" when he is called home to sit shiva for his father--who, incidentally, was an atheist. This of course means seven days in his parent's house with his exquisitely dysfunctional family, including his mom, a sexy, "I've-still-got-it" shrink fond of making horrifying TMI statements; his older sister, Wendy, and her distracted hubby and three kids; his snarky older brother, Paul, and his wife; and his youngest brother, Phillip, the "Paul McCartney of our family: better-looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead."

Tropper is wickedly funny, a master of the cutting one-liner that makes you both cringe and crack up. But what elevates his novels and makes him a truly splendid writer is his ability to create fantastically flawed, real characters who stay with you long after the book is over. Simultaneously hilarious, hopeful and uncomfortably honest, This Is Where I Leave You is as much about a family's reckoning as it is about one man's attempt to get it together. If you have a warped sense of humor, the affectionate, warts-and-all portrayal of the Foxmans will have fans wishing for a sequel.

Rating: 4.5 Recommend

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

That dark period, running roughly from 1966 to Mao's death in 1976, is fast becoming the Chinese literary equivalent of the Holocaust, a source for reflection on China's cultural mores, the power of one man and his misshapen ideas, and the brutal potential of conformity and mass behavior. This novel centers on the 1979 execution of a Chinese counterrevolutionary in the provincial town of Muddy River and spirals outward into a scathing indictment of Communist China. It is hard to believe that it was only a scant 30 years ago that this occurred. 

This book opens up with a scene of her parents waking up to know that this is the day that their daughter will die.  While Shan's parents are bereft, others celebrate her execution. 

I really thought I was going to enjoy this book but, then it started meandering to include so many different story lines that I just couldn't stay with it.  It jumps around and includes so many characters that I didn't care about.  I wish she would have stayed with the original story line of the parents and built it from there.

Rating: 1 Do not recommend

Monday, March 15, 2010

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Thirteen inter-twined tales from present a portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection. The opening Pharmacy focuses on terse, dry junior high-school teacher Olive Kitteridge and her gregarious pharmacist husband, Henry, both of whom have survived the loss of a psychologically damaged parent, and both of whom suffer painful attractions to co-workers. 

When you click on the 1 star reviews on Amazon, they definitely capture my feelings and puzzlement on how this book could have generated so much interest

I found the characters to be grating.  Olive was so miserable, Henry was mousy, Denise was naive -- and all were very dysfunctional.  Thankfully, I don't know anyone like these people so, none of the characters seem real. 

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Bridget Fitzmaurice works for a women's shelter in the Bronx; her older sister, Meghan, cohost of the popular morning show Rise and Shine, is the most famous woman on television. These sisters lost their parents at an early age and Quindlen does a wonderful job of effortlessly showing their sisterly bond.  Bridget acts as a second mother to the busy Meghan's college student son, Leo.
This is a light easy to read novel (a la "beach novel") that is the perfect book to lose yourself in.  There is comedy, good prose and fabulous descriptions of New York and the lifestyle that goes along with living in Manhatten.  Quindlen writes frankly, articulately and believably about female relationships, which are the core of her novels.  This isn't a heavy or "best of" type of novel but, a delicious indulgence to be enjoyed for what it is.

Rating: 3.3 Strong OK

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

When Irene America discovers that her husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, she begins a secret Blue Notebook, stashed securely in a safety deposit box.  There she records the truth about her life and her marriages, while turning her Red Diary - into a manipulative farce.  Alternating between these two records, complemented by unflinching third-person narration, Shadow Tag is an  eerily gripping read.  From the minute I read the first page, I was riveted -- similar to how you have to look as you pass a car accident.  This story is so dysfunctional and yet, so raw and honest.  This was a very well written book and I am still reflecting back on it and appreciating it but, I am not recommending it as it is so different that it depends on your taste.  It will stay with you, long after you wish it wouldn't.

Update - Iniitally I rated this lower but, with recent discussions with other book club members, I realized how much I enjoyed this book - both the writing and the warped mindgames as well as the fact that as dysfunctional as it is, you just can't look away.  That is an incredible author who keeps you coming back for more when the book is so messed up  I realize that I tempered my previous rating as, although I loved this book, it may not be for everyone.  I have raised my rating to what I feel this book deserves and will let you do research yourself to see if it is a book that you want to read.

Rating: 4.6 Recommend but disturbing

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Walk Two Moons is the story of a young girl's life after her mom leaves her and her dad gives her a new step mother. It also tells how she starts her new life in a new town and a new school with a lot of new friends and people.  I just couldn't get in to this story so, I toasted it.

Rating: 1 Do NOT recommend

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

My girlfriend Pat recommended Alan Brennert's first novel in this series "Molokai" to me but, I ended up downloading Honolulu.  I don't believe the series of books are connected so, hopefully it is ok that I am listening to them out of order. This book starts off with young Regret, whose name speaks volumes of her value in turn-of-the-20th-century Korea. Emboldened by her desire to be educated, Regret commits herself as a mail-order bride to a prosperous man in Hawaii, where girls are allowed to attend school. But when she arrives, she finds her new husband is a callous plantation worker with drinking and gambling problems. Soon, Regret (now known as Jin) and her fellow picture brides must discover their own ways to prosper in America and find that camaraderie and faith in themselves goes a long way.  This was very a very interesting book in explaining the history of Honolulu and the cultures but, for me, this book was a little too 'sweet' in Jin's outlook and went on too long.

Rating: 3.1 OK