Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Title: The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseini

Pages: 400

Source: Personal library

Rating: 8/10

Summary (From Amazon):

 Hosseini's stunning debut novel starts as an eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience in the late 20th century, but betrayal and redemption come to the forefront when the narrator, a writer, returns to his ravaged homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are shot during the Taliban takeover in the mid '90s. Amir, the son of a well-to-do Kabul merchant, is the first-person narrator, who marries, moves to California and becomes a successful novelist. But he remains haunted by a childhood incident in which he betrayed the trust of his best friend, a Hazara boy named Hassan, who receives a brutal beating from some local bullies. After establishing himself in America, Amir learns that the Taliban have murdered Hassan and his wife, raising questions about the fate of his son, Sohrab. Spurred on by childhood guilt, Amir makes the difficult journey to Kabul, only to learn the boy has been enslaved by a former childhood bully who has become a prominent Taliban official. The price Amir must pay to recover the boy is just one of several brilliant, startling plot twists that make this book memorable both as a political chronicle and a deeply personal tale about how childhood choices affect our adult lives. The character studies alone would make this a noteworthy debut, from the portrait of the sensitive, insecure Amir to the multilayered development of his father, Baba, whose sacrifices and scandalous behavior are fully revealed only when Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns the true nature of his relationship to Hassan. Add an incisive, perceptive examination of recent Afghan history and its ramifications in both America and the Middle East, and the result is a complete work of literature that succeeds in exploring the culture of a previously obscure nation that has become a pivot point in the global politics of the new millennium.

My Two Cents:

Note: I read this all the way back in May, just before my son was born, so my thoughts aren't as immediate and full as they normally are.

This was one powerful novel. I have heard all the buzz about this over the years, and stayed away from it for a while as a result (I don't like reading a book just because it's the latest thing). I almost didn't read it, but I'm glad I chose to.

I had a hard time figuring out how I felt about Amir. I disliked him early on as a result of his attitude toward Hassan. He was privileged, standoffish and snobby. But I had to remind myself that he was just a child and, let's face it, a lot of children are the same way. As the novel went on and we saw more of the adult Amir and his quest to return to Afghanistan, I liked him much more. Sure, his future actions did not excuse his childhood problems, but it turned him into a well-rounded, real, somewhat sympathetic character.

I have not read a whole lot of Middle Eastern fiction, and honestly I know very little about the region, so Hosseini's ability to open up the customs and everyday life of Afghanistan in the 1970s helped me a lot. His descriptions of the city and the lives of its people prior to the Taliban's takeover made the contrast when Amir returns even more stark. It's difficult to imagine that people could survive in conditions such as Amir encountered, but Hosseini's ability to paint a picture for his reader makes even the most unpalatable of situations believable.

This is a well-written, affecting novel that is not for the faint of heart due to some graphic scenes. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Cold MountainTitle: Cold Mountain

Author: Charles Frazier

Pages: 449

Source: Personal library

Rating: 8/10

Summary (From back of book):

Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, Inman, a Confederate soldier, decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains and to Ada, the woman he loved there years before. His trek across the disintegrating South brings him into intimate and sometimes lethal converse with slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, both helpful and malign. At the same time, Ada is trying to revive her father's derelict farm and learn to survive in a world where the old certainties have been swept away.

My Two Cents:

I really like fiction set during the Civil War. In school, studying the 1860s always was one of my favorite things in history classes, so it would make sense that I enjoy fiction set during that era, even though I haven't read a lot of fiction set during this period.

One of my favorite things about this book was how the narration flips between the experiences of Inman as he attempts to return home from the war and Ada, who is trying to care for her father's failing farm. The dual narrative gave both perspectives of the war (Even though we hardly had any actual battle narration), so it wasn't all war and it wasn't all the struggle to survive. I liked that we got to see both sides of the experience.

I really liked all the main characters, too. It's not often that I like even the unsavory characters, like Stobrod, but even he had his fiddling obsession that kind of endeared him to me. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like Ada. She seemed like nothing more than a damsel in distress who just kind of said, "Well, I don't know how to do any of this stuff around the farm, and I'm not really going to try." But, when Ruby comes along, Ada changes drastically and I really grew to like her.

My favorite parts of this book were Inman's interactions with various types of people in his travels. No matter what was doled out to him, he didn't become overly vicious or greedy; he simply treated people the way they treated him and he went out of his way to help those who needed the extra assistance. I also thought seeing the imagined experiences of people on the fringes of society added to the richness of the ambiance set out in this book.

I realize I'm probably about the last person on the planet to have read this book (And I haven't seen the movie, either!), but if there's someone out there who likes historical fiction and really interesting narratives who hasn't read this novel yet, give it a try.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Review: 13, rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro

13, rue Thérèse: A NovelTitle: 13, rue Therese

Author: Elena Mauli Shapiro

Pages: 268 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in finished copies may differ)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 7/10

Summary (From back of book):

American academic Trevor Stratton discovers a box full of artifacts as he settles into his new office in Paris. The pictures, letters, and objects in the box relate to the life of Louise Brunet, a Frenchwoman who lived through both world wars.

Trevor begins to piece together the story of Louise's life: her love for a cousin who died in the war, her marriage to a man who works for her father, and her attraction to a neighbor in her building at 13, rue Therese. As Trevor becomes enamored of the charming, feisty Louise of his imagination, he notices another alluring Frenchwoman: his clerk, Josianne, who planted the mysterious box in his office and with whom he finds he is falling in love.

My Two Cents:

The story of how this book came to be and the concept around which Shapiro builds her novel is really interesting. The author acquired a box of artifacts -- letters, pressed flowers, gloves -- that belonged to an upstairs neighbor when she lived in Paris. It is around these real-life things that she builds this book and from which she imagines the life of the real Louise Brunet. She then takes those artifacts and frames them within the story of Trevor, an American who finds the box in his new office in Paris. I think the framework and the real-life story behind all the things we see scanned into the book is what I liked best about this book.

Due to the framework of the novel, I found it difficult to actually get to know Trevor as a character. This was kind of disappointing to me, as I would have liked to know him more since he basically is the one telling the story.

We do, however, get to know Louise very well. I honestly wasn't sure what to think of Louise. There were times when I liked her and times when I did not like her one bit. She was very much a Scarlett O'Hara to me, without the extended periods of complete and total loathing. Overall, though, I think she was a really interesting main character and I enjoyed the fact that, even though she likely was nothing like the real Louise Brunet, she was based somewhat on a real person.

This is an enjoyable, easy read that I would recommend to anyone looking for a fun little mystery to figure out along with their reading.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

House of Sand and FogTitle: House of Sand and Fog

Author: Andre Dubus III

Pages: 365

Source: Personal library

Rating: 5/10

Summary (From back of book):

In this riveting novel of almost unbearable suspense, three fragile yet determined people become dangerously entangled in a relentlessly escalating crisis. Colonel Behrani, once a wealthy man in Iran, is now a struggling immigrant willing to bet everything he has to restore his family's dignity. Kathy Nicolo is a troubled young woman whose house is all she has left, and who refuses to let her hard-won stability slip away from her. Sheriff Lester Burdon, a married man who finds himself falling in love with Kathy, becomes obsessed with helping her fight for justice.

Drawn by their competing desires to the same small house in the California hills and doomed by their tragic inability to understand one another, the three converge in an explosive collision course.

My Two Cents:

Even though I felt compelled to read this book, even staying up late to read a good chunk of it, I can't say I enjoyed it. I think I really just wanted to know what happened at the end, to see how everything played out.

A lot of my issue with the book was that two of the characters, Kathy and Lester, just made me so mad. I could not find any single shred of sympathy for either of them. I thought they both were terrible, reckless people and reading their sections of the book found me rolling my eyes on nearly every page. I don't know why I hated them so much, but I did. Ugh.

I think another part of my problem with the book was that I only felt any sympathy for Behrani. He not only was truly the one who did no wrong in the whole situation (Yes, you can argue he could have given the house back, but why should he have to pay for someone else's mistake?), but the whole action of the book just comes crashing in on his family. I spent the last 100 or so pages just so mad and sick that, had my desire to find out not won, I would have put the book down. It just angered me something fierce.

Now, I'm no prude, but I also took a lot of issue with the amount and description of the sex in this book. Do I know it happens? Yes. Do I know it's not always as chaste and pure as the driven snow? Uh, yeah. But I don't need to read about it every 30 or so pages. In detail. There are just so many other things that could have been done in those spaces, in my opinion.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent: A NovelTitle: The Red Tent

Author: Anita Diamant

Pages: 321

Source: Personal library

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From back of book):

Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons in the Book of Genesis.

Told in Dinah's voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoil of ancient womanhood -- the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers -- Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah -- the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that are to sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a a foreign land. Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates and intimate, immediate connection.

My Two Cents:

I really, really enjoyed this book. I was familiar with the very short story of Dinah from the Bible, and didn't really give it a second thought until reading Diamant's take on the whole ordeal.

Dinah is a fabulous character. Even though she comes from a time so far removed from my own, I could easily visualize her and found Diamant's portrayal completely believable. As the only daughter among 12 sons, it is a given that she would be doted on by the women and pretty much forgotten by the men. There are very few interesting, well-rounded females in the early portions of the Bible, so it was really nice to see one pulled out and given her own story. I really liked that she felt compelled to take care of other women as a midwife, so we got to see her interactions with people of all classes as well as those within her family. From what I know of the time in which Dinah would have lived, every detail of Diamant's narrative makes sense.

There is just so much in this book I hardly can begin to deal with all of it here. I'm usually not one for obviously feminist literature, but this book worked for me. My favorite scenes were those within the red tent, when Dinah and her four mothers spend three days each month talking and enjoying one another's company. It actually made me wish that there still was a tradition such as this in today's world.

For anyone who likes historical fiction, wants to know more about Dinah or who just is interested in a really rich narrative, I would suggest this book.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez

Salvation CityTitle: Salvation City

Author: Sigrid Nunez

Pages: 280 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in finished copies may differ)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 6/10

Summary (From back of book):

After a flu pandemic has killed large numbers of people worldwide, the United States has grown increasingly anarchic. Orphaned Cole Vining is lucky to have found refuge with an evangelical pastor and his family in sheltered Salvation City, which has been spared much of the devastation.

But it's a starkly different community from the one Cole has known, and he struggles what his changed world means for him. As those around him become increasingly fixated on their vision of utopia -- so different from his own parents' drams -- Cole imagines building a new and different future for himself.

My Two Cents:

I really liked the concept of this book. A ravaged United States, and world, after a pandemic should create a really rich opportunity to explore a lot of deep issues, right? We should be dealing with food shortages and cleanup and broken families and a crumbling government. But, there's really not much of that here in this book. This book, mostly, is about Cole's suddenly different life, going from an atheistic home of free-thinkers to the home of an almost frighteningly evangelical pastor and his tiny little community of believers.

I think the story line that Nunez created would have worked independent of the flu pandemic. But I didn't feel as if it worked as well as it could have the way it was written. I kept waiting for something to really depend upon the pandemic, but besides Cole being tossed in an orphanage, there didn't seem to be any reason for the pandemic to be used as a device here. Nunez's point easily could have been accomplished had Cole's parents died in, say, a car accident. I guess I was just left disappointed by this.

Salvation City is very well-written. It's an easy read with some great, albeit a little startling at times, detail. Nunez also creates some interesting characters, including Cole and Pastor Wyatt. These factors did keep me going through the book despite my disappointment at the plot itself.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's EyeTitle: Cat's Eye

Author: Margaret Atwood

Pages: 446

Source: Personal library

Rating: 8/10

Summary (From book flap):

Painter Elaine Risley, pushing fifty, returns from Vancouver to Toronto for a retrospective of her work, which has been much celebrated by the women's movement and much attacked from other quarters.

Toronto is the city she fled many years earlier, hoping to leave behind the tyrannical and obsessive memories of her early life there -- from her post-World War II school days and fifties adolescence, through the avant-garde art scene of the sixties, to the advent of feminism in the early seventies.

Now, as she wanders the streets of the city, which are no longer puritanical and dowdy but resplendent with eighties glitz, Elaine confronts the submerged layers of her past -- her unconventional family, her eccentric and brilliant brother, the self-righteous and dangerous Mrs. Smeath, and the two men Elaine later came to love in diverse and sometimes disastrous ways. But it is the enigmatic Cordelia, once her tormentor, then her best friend, whose elusive yet powerful presence in her life Elaine finally comes to understand.

My Two Cents:

At first, I wasn't sure how I was going to like this novel. It didn't capture me right away like the other two Atwood works I've read, but as I continued reading, it had me hooked.

I really liked Elaine as a main character, although I liked her better in her younger form than as the mature, adult narrator. She had an unconventional childhood, especially for the first eight years of her life. She really, to me, seemed like someone I would have liked to have as a friend as a child. With a lot of her interactions with Cordelia, especially, she spoke to me as having a very typical young girl experience with groups of mean girls. Elaine was just a character who was easy to relate to and to see in myself and a lot of people I know.

While much of this book happens in the past and there really isn't a whole lot of action as far as everything in the book is leading up to this huge climax, I was incredibly interested in where Atwood was going to go. I liked that we saw Elaine as an adult, so we know how she turned out, but we were able to see her evolution and how she became the adult she is.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Margaret Atwood or who just wants an interesting story that will keep you reading much longer than you had planned.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Review: City of Dreams by William Martin

City of DreamsTitle: City of Dreams

Author: William Martin

Pages: 447

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 7/10

Summary (From book flap):

"Can I interest you in saving America?"

That's the text message Peter Fallon receives from a Wall Street bigwig. It's not a challenge he can turn down, especially since the country is in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The stock market is wobbling. The Chinese have stopped buying our T-bills. If we don't get control of our deficit, our economic future looks grim.

But all may not be lost. Hidden somewhere in New York City is a box of 1780s bonds with a face value of ten thousand dollars, part of a series of bonds called New Emission Money. The Supreme Court is about to decide if these bonds still have value. If the decision is yes, those ten thousand dollars, at 5 percent interest, will be worth a very pretty penny. A lot of very pretty pennies.

Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington, must find the box -- and fast. Suddenly, their race against time becomes a race through time as Peter and Evangeline track the stories of New Yorkers whose lives have been changed by the bonds. They'll confront frightened booksellers, heartless businessmen, former flames, renegade treasury agents, and the Russian mafia ... and all while they'll unravel the thrilling and inspiring origins of the City of Dreams.

My Two Cents:

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I'm not normally one to enjoy the whole suspense/thriller genre, but I do like a book that has a good historical story. So, I gave it a try.

The best thing about this book, in my mind, was how Martin traces the bonds in question through time and how he is able to bring each time in history -- 1770s, 1890s, 1920s, 1980s and present day -- to life. It was also interesting to see that, since these bonds were basically lost in the New York City, each time period's action was centered in New York. As a result, the reader really got to see how the city changed from its earliest roots to what it is today. The whole historical background was most interesting to me.

I did find some of the action and events, especially those in present day, a little hard to believe. I have a hard time believing, for example, that a building could be blown up and a man shot in the middle of the street nearly unnoticed by police. But, although the somewhat outlandish events contributed to the suspense feel of the book, it did not take anything away from my enjoyment of the book or my desire to find out what happened next.

I also found that I really could not connect to any of the characters. They all seemed very one-dimensional. And while that did bother me some, again, it did not cause me to dislike the book or to make me want to put it down.

If you like historical novels or history in general, give this book a try.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: The Body Artist by Don Delillo

The Body Artist: A NovelTitle: The Body Artist

Author: Don Delillo

Pages: 124

Source: Personal library

Rating: 5/10

Summary (From book flap):

In this spare, seductive novel, he inhabits the muted world of Lauren Hartke, an artist whose work defies the limits of the body. Lauren is living on a lonely coast, in a rambling rented house, where she encounters a strange, ageless man, a man with uncanny knowledge of her own life. Together they begin a journey into the wilderness of time -- time, love and human perception.

My Two Cents:

I just need to learn to stay away from Don Delillo's books. I read White Noise in college and thought it was fabulous. So, I gave Underworld a try. I barely made it through that huge tome, and all I remember about it is that it was about baseball. I figured, though, that maybe that was a fluke of a book and I didn't take to it since I dislike baseball so much. That led me to giving The Body Artist a try.

I had the same issue with this book that I had with Franny and Zooey: Nothing happens. I know this is like the hallmark of all those esoteric modern novels that hipsters worship, but it just doesn't work for me. I found myself, even in just 124 pages, spacing out and wishing for it to be over. I know this sounds harsh, but there just wasn't much about this book that I liked.

The one saving grace of this novel is Delillo's writing. He certainly is one of the great craftsman of the English language currently alive. His sentences are varied and complex, and he has a knack for turning a phrase. But, really, that's about all I found to like about this book.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton

Mr. ToppitTitle: Mr. Toppit

Author: Charles Elton

Pages: 387 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in finished copies may differ)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 7/10

Summary (From back of book):

When Arthur Hayman, an unsuccessful screenwriter turned children's book author, is accidentally hit by a cement truck in London, his dying moments are spent with a passing American tourist, Laurie Clow, who is fated to bring posthumous fame to his obscure series, The Hayseed Chronicles, and the enigmatic and sinister Mr. Toppit who is at the center of the books. While Arthur doesn't live to reap the benefits of his books' success, his legacy falls to his widow, Martha, and their children -- the fragile Rachel, and Luke, reluctantly immortalized as the fictional Luke Hayseed, hero of his father's books. But others want their share of the Hayseed phenomenon, particularly Laurie, who has a mysterious agenda of her own that changes all their lives as Martha, Rachel, and Luke begin to crumble under the heavy burden of their inheritance.

My Two Cents:

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I thought Elton's writing had a great flow to it and made this book really easy to read. I also thought he created some really solid, vivid characters, especially Laurie and Rachel. Also, he created a really interesting concept with The Hayseed Chronicles. It was so intriguing that I actually found myself often wishing that the series really existed so I could read it.

My big hang-up with this book, though, is that it just didn't seem to feel very cohesive. Sure, all the scenes orbited around Luke and the fame of his father's books, along with the downfall of his family, but it just seemed as if there were episodes thrown in for shock factor alone. The section where Luke is visiting Laurie in Los Angeles is full of these non sequiturs, and the whole portion just kind of hangs together limply. I think maybe it's because we really don't get to know Luke outside of the fact that he really dislikes all the attention paid to him because he is the iconic main character of his father's books. I couldn't tell if things that he did and said while at Laurie's house really were in or out of character for him, so they all just kind of seemed to come out of nowhere.

Generally, though, I did enjoy this book. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin: A NovelTitle: The Blind Assassin

Author: Margaret Atwood

Pages: 521

Source: Personal library

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From book flap):

The novel opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura's story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

Told in a style that magnificently captures the colloquialisms of the 1930s and 1940s, The Blind Assassin is a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience. The novel has many threads and a series of events that follow one another at a breathtaking pace. As everything comes together, readers will discover that the story Atwood is telling is not only what it seems to be -- but is, in fact, much more.

My Two Cents:

I have not read any Atwood for several years, and my only experience with her (Short of following her on Twitter!) is with The Handmaid's Tale, which is still one of my favorite books. I'm glad I expanded my Atwood repertoire, because I truly think she is one of the best modern writers. In my totally unofficial, based-on-two-books opinion, of course.

Atwood weaves a very complicated tale, moving back and forth between Iris' past and present, the text of The Blind Assassin and various news articles. She is able to switch her narrative voice to suit each need while still maintaining a through line and a cohesive feel to the book, which isn't an easy feat.

I liked the main character, Iris, much more as the narrative unfolded. At first, I felt sorry for her and realized she had gotten into a situation for which she was unprepared. As the novel went on, I continued to feel sorry for her because Atwood made it seem as if she was a totally helpless party in everything: Her marriage, the decline of her family's business, her sister's health. But, there were moments where Iris' strength and defiance shone through, partly in the narrative portions where she is older, but also in events from the past. Even though I could predict the big revelation that came at the end, it did not ruin my experience of the novel as a whole.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes good, solid writing and character development along with an interesting story (Who doesn't?).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead: A NovelTitle: Gilead

Author: Marilynne Robinson

Pages: 247

Source: Personal library

Rating: 8/10

Summary (From book flap):

In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowa preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He "preached men into the Civil War," then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father -- an ardent pacifist -- and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the Union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.

This is also the tale of another remarkable vision -- not a corporeal vision of God by the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.

My Two Cents:

I thought this was a really interesting book. I don't read a whole lot of epistolary fiction, especially epistolary fiction told only by one person. I did start to get a little frustrated (I think part of it was because I was starting in on the latter portion of the 24-hour Read-a-Thon) because, since the book is told through one person's letters and one person's point of view, the plot did not develop in any really linear fashion. As I was reading, I wasn't so fond of that device, but after I had finished the book and reflected on it a bit, I think the device worked better for telling the story than any traditional narrative would have.

Robinson's writing is really easy to read, but still very rich and descriptive. I liked how she was able to bring her own narrative style forward while still keeping the voice believable as coming out of Ames's mouth. I never have read a Robinson book before, but I think I will give some others a try.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini

Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things ProustTitle: Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust

Author: Lorenza Foschini

Pages: 120

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 7/10

Summary (From Amazon):

Jacques GuÉrin was a prominent businessman at the head of his family's successful perfume company, but his real passion was for rare books and literary manuscripts. From the time he was a young man, he frequented the antiquarian bookshops of Paris in search of lost, forgotten treasures. The ultimate prize? Anything from the hands of Marcel Proust.
GuÉrin identified with Proust more deeply than with any other writer, and when illness brought him by chance under the care of Marcel's brother, Dr. Robert Proust, he saw it as a remarkable opportunity. Shamed by Marcel's extravagant writings, embarrassed by his homosexuality, and offended by his disregard for bourgeois respectability, his family had begun to deliberately destroy and sell their inheritance of his notebooks, letters, manuscripts, furni-ture, and personal effects. Horrified by the destruction, and consumed with desire, GuÉrin ingratiated himself with Marcel's heirs, placating them with cash and kindness in exchange for the writer's priceless, rare material remains. After years of relentless persuasion, GuÉrin was at last rewarded with a highly personal prize, one he had never dreamed of possessing, a relic he treasured to the end of his long life: Proust's overcoat.
Proust's Overcoat introduces a cast of intriguing and unforgettable characters, each inspired and tormented by Marcel, his writing, and his orphaned objects. Together they reveal a curious and compelling tale of lost and found, of common things and uncommon desires.

My Two Cents:

I don't read a whole lot of non-fiction, so my expectations for this spare book were pretty low. I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book read like a novel instead of a piece of non-fiction. It moved at a quick pace (Of course, at 120 pages, it's hard not to move quickly) and kept me interested.

Foschini does a great job of painting Jacques Guerin, who you could theoretically call her main character. Sure, he was a real person, but his obsession with Proust and his quest to collect pieces of the author's life. I found Guerin a fascinating person, and could see the source of his eccentricities.

My main problem with this book, however, is that there was so much emphasis placed on Guerin's collection of things such as Proust's manuscripts and his bed that there was very little time left for his overcoat, the title object. Foschini's entire introduction is dedicated to her viewing of the coat, yet the coat only really comes into play for about 20 pages of the book. I would have liked to hear a lot more about the coat, if possible, and think it would have added to this book.

If you like non-fiction about authors and their legacies, or you like reading about people who collect things, you may want to check out this book. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

Sons and Lovers (Signet Classics)Title: Sons and Lovers

Author: D.H. Lawrence

Pages: 436

Source: Personal library

Rating: 9/10


This novel tells the story of the Morel family: Father Walter, mother Gertrude, and children William, Annie, Paul and Arthur. Not finding any sort of satisfaction in her marital relationship with drunk, abusive, brash Walter, Gertrude places all her love and devotion onto her sons. Her desire to protect them eventually leads to William's dangerous lifestyle and Paul's inability to move out of his parents' home.

My Two Cents:

I really, really enjoyed this novel. For some reason, Lawrence always has kind of held the same lofty place in English letters of James Joyce and, to an extent, Shakespeare. He just wasn't an author that, going through school, a lot of people read for fun. There was one short story that every English major at my college read, but I think I only knew one or two other people who read him extracurricularly. As a result, Lawrence just gained this kind of aura that I never tried to breech. However, I'm glad I finally did read Lawrence and can't wait to read more by him.

I really oscillated back and forth as to whether or not I liked or even felt sorry for Gertrude. For the first portion of the novel, I absolutely felt sorry for her. She had an absent husband who did not give her enough money to keep the home running each week. Walter constantly was out drinking and, when he came home, he was loud and mean. The only good relationships she had were with her children, who keep multiplying even though she hates her husband. But, as the children grew, I liked her less and less. She became one of those mothers who just cannot cut the apron strings. Her suffocation eventually leads to William leaving the house and going against pretty much everything he ever has been taught, to his detriment. Gertrude's hold on Paul, mostly because of what happened to William, is just frighteningly strong. By the end of the novel, he is in his late 20s, has ruined two potential romantic relationships because of his mother's co-dependency and still living at home. There just was something so wrong and even creepy about Paul's relationship with his mother as an adult that I just could not get over.

While I spent most of the novel wishing that Paul would just cut the cord on his own and leave his parents' house (He nearly does a few times), and I could understand that his care and concern for his mother was the driving force behind his inability to grow up, I still couldn't really feel very sorry for him. I think it's because of the way his worry for his mother manifests itself in his relationships with the women in the book. Instead of making things clear about his relationship with his mother from the start, he leads two women on for long periods of time, coming close to marriage a couple of times, only to turn into a rogue and a rake and treat the women horribly. I just could not feel sorry for Paul, not one bit.

Lawrence's writing is gorgeous. He really had a knack for evoking not only the physical landscape of the industrializing English countryside in which his novel is set, but he is able to render the overall atmosphere of the setting with stunning accuracy. I really felt as if I could picture not only the physical surroundings, but I could feel as downtrodden and low as many of the characters in his novel. This was just a beautiful novel that flowed really easily, and I could sit down to read and, before I knew it, I was 50 pages farther into the book.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Read-a-Thon: Midway Survey!

1. What are you reading right now? I'm reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2. How many books have you read so far? This is book number three.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I'm not sure! I'll be glad to finish this book and then move on to another book.
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Not really. I just told my husband I'm participating in a read-a-thon, so he can't expect my help with much!
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Sort of. My need to shift positions frequently is oh, so fun, as are the little legs kicking my book off my convenient book rest (My stomach).Of course, I was without a computer for most of the first half of the read-a-thon, which was a severe inconvenience.
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Nothing, really. This is my third read-a-thon!
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope! It's fabulous!
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I'd actually set my alarm... Oops.
9. Are you getting tired yet? I'm nearly 34 weeks pregnant. I'm always tired!
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Having a variety of comfortable places to sit is really helpful. Sometimes, a change of scenery can help you regain focus.

Good luck with the rest of the Read-a-Thon, everyone!!

Read-a-Thon Update

Hello, fellow Read-a-Thon-ers! This is the first I've had my computer back all day!

Here's what my Read-a-Thon has looked like thus far:

Started reading at 9 a.m. CDT. I was really lazy and didn't wake up until three hours into the day!

Finished Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. Review will come later this week, but I highly recommend it and now consider myself a Lawrence fan.

Started and finished an ARC of Proust's Overcoat, a great little gem of the true story surrounding Proust's infamous overcoat and what happened to many of his personal belongings after his death. Review will come later this week.

I'm now halfway through Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I'm really liking it thus far. I hope to finish it in the next couple hours here.

This is my third Read-a-Thon and, thus far, my most successful reading-wise!

I haven't yet participated in any mini-challenges (Just getting my computer back from a suddenly projects-oriented husband and all), but I plan to pop a few in while the potatoes for my potato salad are cooling.

Happy reading, everyone!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge (Bantam Classics)Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge

Author: Thomas Hardy

Pages: 326

Source: Personal library

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From back of book):

Rooted in an actual case of wife-selling in early nineteenth-century England, the story builds into an awesome Sophoclean drama of guilt and revenge, in which the strong, willful Henchard rises to a position of wealth and power -- only to achieve a most bitter downfall. Proud, obsessed, ultimately committed to his own destruction, Henchard is, as Albert Guerard has said, "Hardy's Lord Jim ... his only tragic hero and one of the greatest tragic heroes in all fiction."

My Two Cents:

It's easy to see why this is considered by many to be Hardy's greatest novel. It blends all the classic qualities of Hardy's work -- fatalism, the plights of the lower classes and rural workers, a rustic setting -- and weaves a story that is compelling for the reader. As usual, Hardy's clear writing style full of stark description makes reading even the unpleasant scenes a joy.

Michael Henchard is probably my favorite Hardy protagonist of the four (Jude, Tess, Bathsheba and Michael) that I have met. He has an unwavering pride and ambition, but also a severe conscience that allows his remorse for his past wrongs to interfere with his plans for the future. As the novel opens, the reader is meant to hate Michael for his deplorable actions. Even as the early action unfolds, I didn't feel sorry for and even wished for Michael's downfall. However, as things really get rolling, I began to wish that things would look up for Michael and that he would stop being so hard on himself.

This change in opinion, I think, is why Michael is my favorite Hardy protagonist. Tess is a pitiable character from day one and there's really no change throughout the novel. Jude is much the same and an obvious victim of nothing but his circumstances. I just wasn't fond of Bathsheba at all, even though she's a unique female protagonist. But Michael is master of his own fortunes and his dynamic character changes make him much more interesting to watch.

If you are a fan of Hardy, fatalism or just want a really good story, I'd suggest picking up The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

The Peach Keeper: A NovelTitle: The Peach Keeper

Author: Sarah Addison Allen

Pages: 273

Source: Personal library

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From book flap):

It's the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam -- built by Willa's great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water's heyday, and once the town's grandest home -- has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries between the haves and the have-nots.

But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate -- socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood, of the very prominent Osgood family -- has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes. But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property's lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it. For the bones -- those of charismatic traveling salesman Tucker Devlin, who worked his dark charms on Walls of Water seventy-five years ago -- are not all that lay hidden out of sight and mind. Long-kept secrets surrounding the troubling remains have also come to light, seemingly heralded by a spate of sudden strange occurrences throughout the town.

Now, thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the dangerous passions and tragic betrayals that once bound their families -- and uncover truths of the long-dead that have transcended time and defied the grave to touch the hearts and souls of the living.

My Two Cents:

I'm going to try really, really hard not to gush completely and be somewhat objective about this. Allen is one of my favorite authors, in case you missed the reviews of her three previous books I did last year, and I wait impatiently until another of her novels comes out. I bought this the day it came out (Thanks to a Barnes and Noble gift card leftover from my birthday!) and read it practically in one sitting. Her books are like that.

This book has all the hallmarks of what I love in Allen's writing -- Great characters for whom you root, magical realism, writing that just seems to float off the page and into your imagination. There really are no surprises here, and I loved that. It's like putting on your favorite pair of jeans and curling up on the couch in front of a fire: Warm and comforting and you know you'll feel good when you're finished.

Although I liked Willa, Allen's central character, a lot, I think my favorite was Paxton. I liked that she was far more than what she appeared to be. Her family pressures led her to lead one particular life, one where she's always put-together and going a million miles per hour. But, deep down, she wants something totally different and she must figure out a way to make that happen. I liked that she had interesting quirks and insecurities (The constant list-making reminded me of a lot of people I knew) that I could picture on any number of people.

If you're a fan of Allen's work, or if you're just looking for a light, feel-good read that blends a little magic into the story, I'd recommend this novel.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Juliet by Anne Fortier

JulietTitle: Juliet

Author: Anne Fortier

Pages: 444 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in finished copies may be different)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From back of book):

When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in Shakespeare's unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse -- "A plague on both your houses!" -- is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems that the only one who can save Julie from her fate is Romeo -- but where is he?

My Two Cents:

Anyone who knows me knows my love for Shakespeare. And anyone who knows me also knows my hatred for Romeo and Juliet. I'm not even going to go into that here except to say that, if there were as awesome a back story in Shakespeare's play as there is in this novel, I might like it a little more.

Fortier uses the famous play as a jumping-off point for her story. She places a modern main character, Julie, right into the thick of an ancient family feud full of blood and death and secrets. When Julie's aunt dies, she has no idea this feud or these families even exist, yet she is left to unravel a 600-year-old mystery on her own. And the mystery just keeps getting deeper and deeper, including not only three families, but an entire town and that town's history. It's a stunning accomplishment, really, the back story that Fortier creates. It unravels bit by bit, and people who once appeared enemies become friends, until it all comes together in the end. I loved how rich that back story was.

Julie was also a fabulous main character. She's sassy enough to get by in another country on little else besides her wits, even when being chased by men with guns, but she's got insecurities for miles. She's not your typical "I'm going to solve this mystery and no one will get in my way or bring me down" kind of character. I found her really easy to relate to.

Honestly, I'm going to stop my review there to keep from gushing too much. This is a fabulous read. I highly, highly recommend it!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations (Barnes & Noble Classics)Title: Great Expectations

Author: Charles Dickens

Pages: 468

Source: Personal library

Rating: 8/10

Summary (From back of book):

In an overgrown churchyard, a grizzled convict springs upon an orphan boy named Pip. The convict terrifies Pip and threatens to kill him unless Pip helps further his escape. Later, Pip finds himself in the ruined garden where he meets the embittered and crazy Miss Havisham and her foster child Estella, with whom he immediately falls in love. After a secret benefactor gives him a fortune, Pip moves to London, where he cultivates great expectations for a life which would allow him to discard his impoverished beginnings and socialize with the idle upper class. As Pip struggles to become a gentleman and is tormented endlessly by the beautiful Estella, he slowly learns the truth about himself and his illusions.

My Two Cents:

I've always liked Charles Dickens. I think I get that from my grandma, as he was her favorite author when she was younger. There's just something about sitting down with a Dickens novel, snuggled under a blanket, that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, even if the novel is kind of grim.

Pip is just such a poor excuse for a person. I could not like him, nor could I feel sorry for him. Luckily, he started to redeem himself near the end of the book, but I still didn't find him a sympathetic character. When his prospects looked up, he completely turned his back on Joe and Biddy, people who had done nothing but help him. There was no indication that he used his money or new status to help anyone (Outside of helping Herbert advance in business) for any sort of good. And his obsession with Estella. Ugh. I found absolutely zero redeeming qualities in her that would warrant a nearly life-long obsession.

I wish we could have seen more of Joe and Biddy. They were definitely the best characters in this book (Herbert was all right, too). I know that was Dickens' intention: To show how money and a fine upbringing does not always make one a better person. I just wish we could have had more time with them. And I just love how they get their sort of "happily ever after."

Since I've read a few Dickens novels, I shouldn't be surprised by all the coincidence the reader is asked to swallow. I went into this novel knowing there would be some really crazy happenstance, but I still had a hard time dealing with a lot of what I was asked to believe. Really? Every single person in this novel is connected to everyone else, even if it's just by association? That's not how real life is. It certainly makes for some interesting revelations, but I had a difficult time suspending my disbelief after the first few big reveals.

If you're a fan of Dickens and his contemporaries, or you just want a good, large-scale novel, give this book a try.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: The Life of Glass by Jillian Cantor

The Life of GlassTitle: The Life of Glass

Author: Jillian Cantor

Pages: 340

Source: A signed copy from the author herself!

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From book flap):

Before he died, Melissa's father told her about stars. He told her that the brightest stars weren't always the most beautiful -- that if people took the time to look at the smaller stars, if they looked with a telescope at the true essence of the star, they would find real beauty. But even though Melissa knows that beauty isn't only skin deep, the people around her don't seem to feel that way. There's her gorgeous sister, Ashley, who will barely acknowledge Melissa at school; there's her best friend, Ryan, who may be falling in love with the sophisticated Courtney; and there's Melissa's mother, who's dating someone new, someone Melissa knows will never be able to replace her father.

To make sure she doesn't lose her father completely, Melissa spends her time trying to piece together the last of his secrets and finishing a journal he began -- one about love and relationships and the remarkable ways people find one another. But when tragedy strikes, Melissa has to start living and loving in the present as she realizes that being beautiful on the outside doesn't mean you can't be beautiful on the inside.

My Two Cents:

This is one great young adult novel. It has appeal to younger readers without being overly trendy (Ex: Lots of swearing, sex, etc.) or preachy and is readable by adults without being boring. Cantor does a great job balancing this book for her target audience while also allowing a wider audience to enjoy the novel.

Melissa is a great, well-rounded character. She has a lot of the hallmarks of "typical" teen characters -- Insecurity about her looks, fights with her sister, a feeling of alienation, a little bit of a bratty streak -- without being so overly typical that she becomes a stereotype. She also has a decent amount of maturity, but she's not so "grown up" that teen readers won't be able to relate to her. Cantor's decision to make Melissa her narrator really makes this book.

I really enjoyed that Melissa's relationship with and perception of her deceased father is portrayed in a journal of off-the-wall facts and stories he collected. The journal presents some really great scenes for Melissa and serves as a jumping-off point for her adventures, but the plot isn't so heavily reliant upon the journal's contents that its appearance becomes annoying.

Cantor's writing is really fluid. This book was an easy read for me. She includes enough detail to keep things interesting without being so detailed that it feels like reading Steinbeck. There's a great balance in her writing, as in a lot of the novel, that helps it keep a wide appeal.

If you are looking for a coming-of-age, wholesome young adult novel, check out this book.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Puffin Classics)Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author: Daniel Defoe

Pages: 273 (I have an abridged version)

Source: Personal library

Rating: 7/10

Summary (From back of book):

After surviving a terrible shipwreck, Robinson Crusoe discovers he is the only human on an island far from any shipping routes or rescue. At first he is devastated, but slowly, with patience and imagination, he transforms his island into a tropical paradise. For twenty-four years he lives with no human companionship -- until one fateful day, when he discovers he is not alone...

My Two Cents:

I can see why this book is considered a classic. It's got a story that, though fairly rooted in a particular time period, allows people in every generation to relate to it. Defoe's writing is also elegant enough and indicative of his time period that it serves as an example of the way books were written for future generations.

The one thing I'm not so sure of, though, is why this book is looked to as an example of the creation of a utopian society. Crusoe's island is utopian for him, sure, because he has ultimate rule and there is no discord unless introduced from the outside. However, with the introduction of Friday, the native who becomes Crusoe's slave (In a way), that utopia is only a utopia for Crusoe. True, Friday willingly puts himself into Crusoe's service for his saving Friday's life, and Crusoe is a fairly benevolent master, but the moment Friday enters the scene, there's disparity and inequality. Crusoe ceases to do a lot of work simply because Friday is there to do it. He becomes an island version of a man of leisure and allows Friday to take everything on his back. This, to me, is not a utopian society.

Short of the small issue with this book being classified as showing a utopian society and my general dislike of Crusoe for allowing Friday to become his servant (He easily could've said no!), I did enjoy this book. I thought it was a great example of how man can survive when he needs to, even if he doesn't seem to have a lot of skill from the outset.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Mothers and Other Liars by Amy Bourret

Mothers and Other LiarsTitle: Mothers and Other Liars

Author: Amy Bourret

Pages: 288 (I have an ARC, so page numbers might be different in a finished copy)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 6/10

Summary (From back of book):

As a runaway teen, Ruby Leander could have never imagined the path that would lead her to an abandoned baby. Fast forward nine years: Ruby and Lark have made a home for themselves in New Mexico with their wonderful community of friends -- life is perfect. Until that one fateful day when Ruby learns the truth about her daughter's past. A truth that will change both of their lives, forever.

My Two Cents:

The thing that shines about this book is Bourret's writing and her ability to develop a character. This book was a very easy read, with some nice, lyrical passages. She also made me care about the characters and what happened to them, which is always the mark of a good writer in my book.

However, I just couldn't get over how coincidental so much of this book was. So many things just happened and were accepted as such. I'm not going to specifically say what, because that would ruin the book for anyone planning to read it, but I just couldn't get past a lot of things. Bourret's dealing with what's probably a big hot-button issue was also a little too Jodi Picoult for me. I guess I should have read the back of the book before diving in, or I would've known she's been compared to Picoult.

The other thing that bugged me, and it's such a little thing I feel kind of silly mentioning it, was that each chapter was only a few pages long. In a 288-page book, there are 117 "chapters." Sure, the short chapters made it easy to put the book down and pick it up again, but I just didn't feel it was necessary to separate every single episode or memory out into its own chapter.

Overall, though, I did enjoy this book, despite my complaints about it. If you are a fan of women's fiction (especially books by Jodi Picoult of Marisa de los Santos), then you'll like this novel.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours: A NovelTitle: The Hours

Author: Michael Cunningham

Pages: 226

Source: Personal library

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From back of book):

Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, The Hours is the story of three women: Clarissa Vaughan, who one New York morning goes about planning a party in honor of a beloved friend; Laura Brown, who in a 1950s Los Angeles suburb slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home; and Virginia Woolf, recuperating with her husband in a London suburb, and beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway. By the end of the novel, the stories have intertwined, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace, demonstrating Michael Cunningham's deep empathy for his characters as well as the extraordinary resonance of his prose.

My Two Cents:

I saw the movie based on this book during a college course several years ago, and immediately put the book on my "To-read" list. I adore Virginia Woolf, so this book appealed to me for a lot of reasons.

This is definitely a case in which I would recommend reading the book before seeing the movie (Although I always recommend that). The movie and the book are so similar, there were points where I caught myself skimming because I "knew what happened." Not exactly the way I want to read the book.

Cunningham's prose is just gorgeous. One word flows into the next and, before you know it, you've read 30 pages. I love when books completely sweep me away and make me lose track of time. It's easy to see why he won the Pulitzer Prize for this work.

He also does a fabulous job of accurately rendering three really complex female characters without stooping to stereotypes. And it's especially commendable when you consider he even included one major stereotype: A 1950s housewife unhappy with her place in life. I never felt as if I was reading flat characters. I wanted to get to know these women more deeply, especially Virginia Woolf.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review: The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

The Comedy of Errors - The Works of William Shakespeare [Cambridge Edition] [9 vols.]Title: The Comedy of Errors

Author: William Shakespeare

Pages: 70

Source: Personal library

Rating: 4/10


The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins that were accidentally separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus. When the Syracusans encounter the friends and families of their twins, a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identities lead to wrongful beatings, a near-seduction, the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus, and accusations of infidelity, theft, madness, and demonic possession.

My Two Cents:

Wow. It's obvious this was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. However, even Shakespeare's worst plays are better than other playwrights' best plays.

Even though this piece is short for a theatrical play (Only about 70 pages), it took me a while to get through. I just couldn't get past all the trite dialogue and crazy coincidences. I remember finding the source for this play, Plautus' The Menaechmi, equally difficult to believe. That complete inability to suspend my disbelief, so crucial in theater, is a lot of the reason why I wasn't able to enjoy this play as much as I possibly could have.

Despite my issues with this play, it still is funny. I think it would be much more humorous seen onstage, which was Shakespeare's original intent.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom

Shakespeare: The Invention of the HumanTitle: Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

Author: Harold Bloom

Pages: 745

Source: Personal library

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From Barnes & Noble):

Remember the controversy attending the publication of The Western Canon? Well, hold on to your mortarboards -- critic, scholar, and Falstaffian gadfly Harold Bloom returns with his magnum opus, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Whether deriding the tenets of the so-called "School of Resentment" or trumpeting the 39 plays of William Shakespeare as "the fixed center of the Western canon," Bloom is here at his audacious best, offering a passionate analysis of the ways Shakespeare not only represented human nature as we know it today but actually created it. Infusing literary criticism with an unusual narrative force, Bloom helps us to understand ourselves through literature, revealing "not only of how meaning gets started...but also of how new modes of consciousness come into being."

My Two Cents:

As much as I love Shakespeare biography and criticism, I've shied away from reading any Bloom for years simply because I've heard nothing but how arrogant and pompous he is. And, while I do get that from this book (Honestly, what academic publishing a book isn't somewhat arrogant and pompous?), it didn't distract me from my reading at all.

Bloom certainly knows his stuff. He's read all the plays many times over and has looked for through-lines and connections that casual readers normally wouldn't see. He links Shakespeare's earlier characters with their counterparts from later, completely opposite plays. Some of the connections seemed, to me, a bit of a stretch, but most of his observations were incredibly insightful and had me looking at some of the plays in a completely new light.

His writing is, obviously, somewhat hard to decipher at times. He's an academic who is really fond of the million-dollar words. But, all that is just part of the aura that surrounds Bloom and makes the book just a little more fun to read, I thought. Sure, it was difficult to get through sometimes, and I had to put it down and read something much simpler from time to time, but this book wouldn't be what it was without the overblown language.

If you're a fan of Shakespeare, or just want to read a really long, really in-depth discussion of each of his plays, this is the book for you. But, it's not for the faint-of-heart! 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Review: Warped by Maurissa Guibord

WarpedTitle: Warped

Author: Maurissa Guibord

Pages: 337

Source: Personal library

Challenges: Debut Author Challenge

Rating: 7/10

Summary (From book flap):

Tessa Brody doesn't believe in magic. Or fate.

But there's definitely something weird about the dusty unicorn tapestry that she discovers in a box of old books. The wild, handsome creature enchants Tessa, and frightens her too.

Soon after the tapestry comes into her possession, strange things begin to happen. Tessa experiences vivid dreams of the past filled with images from a brutal hunt -- one that she herself may have played a part in.

When Tessa pulls a loose thread from the tapestry, she releases a terrible secret. She also meets William de Chaucy, a young sixteenth-century nobleman with gorgeous eyes, an odd accent, and haughty attitude to spare. Will's fate is as inextricably tied to the tapestry as Tessa's is. And although Will might be hard to get along with, he's equally hard to resist.

Together, Tessa and Will must correct the wrongs of the past. But time is running out. The Norn sisters, also known as the Fates, have stepped in and begun to make a tangled mess of Tessa's life. Unless she does their bidding and defeats a cruel and crafty ancient enemy, everything, and everyone, she loves will be destroyed.

My Two Cents:

I struggled a bit with how to review this book. Overall, I liked it, but I had some pretty fundamental problems with the book and its characters, so I couldn't give it a really glowing review.

Guibord's writing flows nicely and the concept she chose for her book is very interesting. It weaves together a lot of legend with modern times, and she didn't choose just any legend. She chose a pretty obscure legend surrounding unicorns. The concept definitely intrigued me and kept me in this book.

Tessa was a character on whom my opinion wavered back and forth. At times, I liked her because she just seemed different from the usual teen protagonist. However, there were times when she was just so... typical ... that I wanted to strangle her. I guess I just didn't have a lot of patience for her throwing fits over her father's girlfriend when there were more important things going on.

My biggest problem with this book, and with a lot of young adult literature, is how quickly Tessa and William "fell in love." Guibord gives a background that they've known one another in a legendary way for centuries, so that's supposed to make their "getting-to-know-you" period a little shorter, but still. I guess I just get a little skeeved out by young adult literature modeling these lightning-fast courtships and head-over-heels loves to girls when that's not really the way a lot of the world works. I just feel as if it sets expectations too high and allows girls to get into the mindset that anything short of perfect, immediate love is not enough for them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: Next by James Hynes

Next: A NovelTitle: Next

Author: James Hynes

Pages: 308

Source: Twitter win from Little Brown

Rating: 9/10

Summary (From book flap):

Descending on a plane into Austin, Texas, Kevin Quinn is worried about his stifling job, the younger girlfriend he's lucky to have by can't commit to, his rapidly encroaching late middle age, and the terrorist attacks in Europe that rocked the world just days ago. But as the tarmac looms closer, he's really thinking about only one thing: the beautiful young woman in the seat next to him.

Though he should be focused on the job interview that's brought him to Texas in the first place, Kevin can't quite let his luminous seatmate go. He impulsively takes off after her through the city streets in a quixotic and nostalgic journey that evokes scenes from his past: his dodgy love life, recollected in hilariously mortifying detail; the tragicomedy of his youthful idealism; the dysfunctional family he has only ever wanted to escape.

It's a day both common in its anxieties and singular for the fresh possibilities the girl and the interview represent. Then, on the fifty-second floor of an Austin office tower, as he takes the first steps toward what he hopes might be a late-in-life second chance, Kevin is suddenly confronted with a shocking reality about himself, and the age we live in. Perhaps, in the nick of time, he will understand just what happens next.

My Two Cents:

This is one of those books that I went into with interest, but also trepidation. I was worried Kevin would turn into another Rabbit Angstrom, and I didn't know if I could take that. I think it's the fact that the protagonist is so far from my own experience (Male, middle-aged, etc.). But, I was pleasantly surprised.

Hynes' writing had me laughing from the get-go. Kevin's internal monologue as he's sitting on the plane, ruminating about nearly everything under the sun, including the "other Kevin" who perpetrated a terrorist attack in Europe, is solid. It's focused but still has that stream-of-consciousness feel to it, but it's easy enough to follow that you don't feel as if you're reading Joyce or Woolf.

Kevin is just pathetic enough to be a sympathetic character -- He can't find it in himself to settle down with one woman, he hates his current job, he dwells on his past -- but he isn't pathetic enough to be a completely boring character. He's actually really interesting to watch as he moves through an unusual city, wondering why he's doing what he's doing but still continuing on his journey anyway. I liked him more and more as the book progressed, and especially identified with his sense of humor.

While this isn't a big action-packed book, or really a book about a person changing drastically (Until the very end, during a crucial moment), it's still a really interesting read that I'd recommend to anyone who's a fan of modern fiction. I finished it in just a couple days' time because I kept wanting to know what happened.

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