Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: The Lovers by Vendela Vida

The Lovers: A NovelTitle: The Lovers

Author: Vendela Vida

Pages: 225 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in the final copy may be different)

Source: Publisher

Rating: 8/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "When half an hour had passed and there was still no sign of a white Renault, Yvonne began to fear she'd been scammed."

Summary (From back of book):

Yvonne, recently widowed and the mother of grown twins, returns to Datca, the coastal village in Turkey where she and her husband honeymooned twenty-eight years ago. She hopes to immerse herself in the warm sand and sea, and in memories of a better time in her life. But her plans are quickly complicated. Her Turkish landlord and his bold and intriguing wife have a curious marital agreement and are constant visitors to the home. And rather than being comforted by her memories, they begin to trouble her.

Overwhelmed by her past and her environment, Yvonne clings to her new-found friendship with Ahmet, a young Turkish boy who sells shells at the local beach. With the boy as her guide, Yvonne gains new insight into her own grown children and begins to enjoy the shimmering sea and the relaxed pace of the Turkish coast. But a terrible accident throws her life into chaos, and her own sense of self into turmoil.

With the crystalline voice, mordant humor, and depth of feeling for which her work has been so celebrated, Vendela Vida has crafted another unforgettable heroine in a beautiful and mysterious landscape.

My Two Cents:

I have never read any of Vida's other work, but I think after this experience I will try to track some down. I really enjoyed this book.

Several people who've reviewed this book on other sites have said the constant depressive feeling (Over Yvonne's husband's death, over the way her children act, over her surroundings, etc.) turned them off this book. However, I think it works well here. Yvonne's wounds are pretty fresh, and her husband's death was so sudden. Hoping to find some kind of healing, she returns to the site of her honeymoon, but instead of finding what she's looking for, she's constantly reminded of how things have changed and the absence of her husband.

Yvonne is a great main character. She's interesting enough to carry the whole novel, but she's relatable enough that most readers will find some way to identify with her. She's broken without being so down-in-the-dumps that she just sits on the couch all day. Instead, she does what most of us would have to do in her situation: Force herself to go out and do things in an unfamiliar country. She could have been a little more dynamic, but her reserve worked well for her situation.

Vida's writing is most evocative when she's describing the landscapes and customs of Turkey. She really helps bring this country, a place I've wanted to visit for a long time, alive, and it adds so much to the story. She's also good at creating memorable characters -- Even though we only met the owner of the house in which Yvonne stays briefly, we hear so many interesting details from other characters that we are left with the impression of a very ... ummm ... interesting man.

This is a great story of a woman in mourning trying to find out who she is without her husband in the picture. If you like stories like this, I would recommend giving this book a go.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ulysses Read-Along, Week 3: Episodes 8 and 9

I really liked this section of the read-along, for many reasons. I just sailed through these two episodes!

Episode 8: Lestrygonians

This is, at least in my opinion, the most fully visceral episode thus far in the book. There's food everywhere, and Leopold connects the food he sees in person with memories and ruminations on food the entire time. Leopold recalls a sensual day with Molly where she fed him seedcake from her mouth. He thinks about food as it relates to politics and religion. And, in a segment that almost made my stomach turn, he watches a roomful of men shove meat into their mouths and masticate it with disgusting detail, causing Leopold to move on to another pub and eat a light, vegetarian lunch.

I think this episode is one of the most easily accessible of the book so far simply because it is so vivid and visceral. Sure, Joyce turns Leopold's thoughts on food into several symbolic and allusive episodes, but nearly anyone reading this episode could get something out of it.

Episode 9: Scylla and Charybdis

I enjoyed this episode because there's so much in here about Stephen's theory of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Being the incredible Shakespeare fan that I am, I loved reading about his theory and putting the pieces together and seeing how it actually is a somewhat workable theory.

Inherent in Stephen's theory, and the others' reaction to his theory, is Stephen's poetic mind and heart. He develops his Hamlet theory because of a poetic connection he feels and assumes with Shakespeare. This rankles the men at the National Library, who prefer their theories to be based upon literary criticism and scholarship. Sometimes, though, the most interesting and best theories when it comes to literary figures about which little is truly known come from the gut reactions and feelings of others. Stephen's theory makes an amount of sense despite it not being based upon any actual facts, and that's what makes it so intriguing.

Running alongside Stephen's Hamlet theory is his paternity crisis again (Convenient that his theory revolves around one of the most intense father-son relationships (From beyond the grave) in literary history, isn't it??). Stephen theorizes that, not only was Shakespeare the literal father to his son Hamnet (The possible source of the name Hamlet), but that through his literary creation, he was a father to the entire world. It would seem, then, that much of Stephen's Hamlet theory is developed based upon his own insecurities regarding his own father (And even his mother).

What did you think about this section? Was it a little easier/harder than the last section? What did you like/dislike? What stuck out to you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ulysses Read-along, Week 2: Episodes 5-7

Perhaps it was because I read these episodes so far apart from one another, but this section was a slog for me, especially Episode 7. I really had to heavily rely on the annotation this time around.

Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters

The big thing in this episode is the parallel with The Odyssey, in which Odysseus' men eat lotus blossoms and fall into a state of lazy intoxication. In this episode, Leopold wanders aimlessly, pondering all sorts of things, as he kills time before Dignam's funeral.

We also see another side to Leopold and Molly's marriage with Leopold's picking up the letter from his erotic pen pal, Martha. Instead of simply seeing Molly as the adulterous one and blaming the decline of the Blooms' marriage solely on her, we now learn that Leopold likely had a hand in the marriage's degradation, as well. While Leopold resolves never to meet Martha in person, even though she asks, which shows some sort of moral restraint, he also says he plans to use stronger, more erotic language in his next letter to her.

Episode 6: Hades

There's a lot about Leopold's status as an outsider in this episode, mainly connected to his Jewishness. He gets into the funeral carriage last, he doesn't have the easy conversation the other men have, and he's not even called by his first name by the men. Part of this is simply because he is an outsider: These men all have known one another longer than they've known Leopold. But, I also got the sense that the other men hold Leopold at arms' length because he is Jewish. If he weren't Jewish, he may be more on the inside than he is now.

We also see a major return to the fathers and sons theme in this episode, especially when the conversation turns to death and suicide and it becomes known that Leopold's father committed suicide. There is a certain sadness in Leopold's thoughts regarding his father's death, but there isn't the heavy guilt and depression that surrounded Stephen's thoughts of his mother's death earlier in the novel. Perhaps this is because Leopold's father's death is at a farther remove in time than Stephen's mother's death, or it could be because Leopold doesn't hold the guilt that Stephen does.

Episode 7: Aeolus

I have to admit, this was the most daunting episode for me. Maybe my attention span was wandering, but the intrusion of the constant newspaper-like headlines just threw me off track and I had to go back and re-read several sections.

There was a lot of back-and-forth conversation in this episode, a lot of which just seemed to be a bunch of men one-upping one another. If this episode is cross-referenced with the Aeolus episode in The Odyssey, the seemingly random conversations make much more sense (Of course, I didn't look up the parallels until after I had read the episode). In the Aeolus episode, one of Odysseus' men disobeys him and opens up a bag of winds which blows the group off course. In Ulysses, the Aeolus episode is full of puffed-up, arrogant men whose life's work is to write long-winded, sometimes incomprehensible, prose for newspapers.

So, what did you think of this section of the novel? Are you still with me? Did you like this part, or hate it?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (The Cousins' War #2)

The Red Queen: A Novel (The Cousins' War)From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here



1 book I read: The Red Queen (The Cousins' War #2)

2 words that describe the book: Historical fiction

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Setting: England

Margaret Beaufort - Henry VIII's grandmother knows that she has one main purpose in life: To bear a son to assume the throne of England. And, she's not letting anyone or anything stand in the way of her ultimate goal. Although much of the book is fabricated, Gregory did a lot of research into Margaret and her court, and you can almost see the hunger in her eyes as she preens her son for the throne.

Henry VII - Margaret's son who is (If other competitors can be eliminated) next in line for the throne of England. He's young when the main battles start, but with the help of his uncle, he steps ably into the role of military commander.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked Gregory's writing and everything that goes into it. Not just is her writing mechanically fabulous and easy-to-read, but she so thoroughly researches her subjects that you can't imagine that they lived any other way. She really knows how to re-create historical periods and figures.

I liked that Gregory is filling a need, of sorts, in historical fiction with this new series. She and many authors like her have tackled the Tudors and the Elizabethan era, but it's nice to see some historical fiction about this family's predecessors (Yes, I know there's other historical fiction about the Yorks and Lancasters out there, I just haven't seen as much of it as Tudor and Elizabethan historical fiction).

I didn't like that I didn't like Margaret. This is, however, a credit to Gregory's skill. Even though I found Margaret conniving and cold-hearted for the vast majority of the book (I liked Elizabeth Woodville from The White Queen much better), I still overall loved this book. That she was able to make such a repellent character the center of her novel and still make the novel enjoyable on the whole is an achievement.

I liked that, even though a lot of it is fabricated, we get to see some of the more minor, but still crucial, players in history. I'm thinking mostly about Jasper Tudor, Margaret's brother-in-law and Henry's uncle. I knew he was part of the real events, but have never looked closely enough at him as a person. Now, I want to do more research on him!

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 5 stars. As always, Gregory pulls out a fabulous work of historical fiction.

The Whys and Wheres: Library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

Still MissingTitle: Still Missing

Author: Chevy Stevens

Pages: 340 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in the final version might be different)

Source: Publisher

Rating: 10/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "You know, Doc, you're not the first shrink I've seen since I got back."

Summary (From back of book):

On the day she was abducted, Annie O'Sullivan, a thirty-two-year-old realtor, has three goals -- sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever-patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she's about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Through sessions with her psychiatrist, Annie retells the terrifying story of the year she spent captive in a remote mountain cabin. Interwoven is a second narrative recounting the aftermath of her escape and her struggle to piece her life back together.

My Two Cents:

This book came totally out of nowhere and surprised me with how much I liked it. I started the book unsure of how I would feel about it, mostly put off by the obvious attitude of the narrator (The entire book is told in first-person narrations during Annie's sessions with her psychiatrist). But, the story quickly drew me in and I finished the book in less than a day.

Stevens weaves an amazingly tense story with so many twists and turns you never know who to trust. Just when you think you have one person pegged as the bad guy, something else happens to make you look at someone else in a different light. And, when the final revelation comes, it just hits like a ton of bricks. I couldn't put this book down because I just had to find out what happened.

Annie is, not just because of the plight in which she finds herself after being kidnapped, one of those characters you root for. You want to see good things happen to Annie because, despite her rough edges, she's a likable person. I kept my fingers crossed the whole time, hoping that Annie would get a happy ending. In a way, she did, but it's definitely not a storybook ending by any means.

At times, Stevens' writing seems a little rough, but I just chalked that up to the type of narrator she had created. It wasn't distracting to the point of drawing me out of the story, but there were times when I had to re-read some sentences to get what was being said because of the way they were constructed.

This is a fabulous book that you won't believe is the author's debut. I would recommend it to anyone wanting a thrill ride or who wants a book exploring the darker side of the human condition. I will warn you, though: This book is intense in every sense of the word. There's rough language, scenes of horrible abuse and violence, and just bad situations all around. If you're at all sensitive to this type of thing, you may want to steer clear of this book.
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