Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Shorts

Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee
published 5/2011

Synopsis from publisher:

Anjali Bose’s prospects don’t look great. Born into a traditional lower-middle-class family, she lives in a backwater town with only an arranged marriage on the horizon. But her ambition, charm, and fluency in language do not go unnoticed by her charismatic and influential expat teacher, Peter Champion. And champion her he does, both to powerful people who can help her along the way and to Anjali herself, stirring in her a desire to take charge of her own destiny.

So she sets off to Bangalore, India’s fastest-growing metropolis, and soon falls in with an audacious and ambitious crowd of young people who have learned how to sound American by watching shows like Seinfeld in order to get jobs in call centers, where they quickly out-earn their parents. And it is in this high-tech city where Anjali — suddenly free of the confines of class, caste, and gender — is able to confront her past and reinvent herself. Of course, the seductive pull of life in the New India does not come without a dark side . . .

My thoughts:

This novel had a weak main character and it was a sticking point for me throughout the book. Anjali had so many opportunities to do...something! ANYTHING! And yet the only time she made any forward movement was when someone else forced her hand. I would have been significantly more interested in Peter Champion's story; Rabi's story; Hossaina's story - these secondary characters felt much more vibrant and interesting. I would read more by this author, because the story itself had promise, but I would need a much stronger heroine to keep me engaged for the long haul.

Finished: 6/2/12
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, and adult situations
My rating: 6/10

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen
published 2010

Synopsis from publisher:

A spur-of-the-moment ski trip becomes a bone-chilling nightmare when a wrong turn leaves Boston medical examiner Maura Isles marooned—far from home and help—in the snowbound Wyoming mountains. Seeking shelter from the cold, she and her traveling companions stumble upon Kingdom Come—a remote village of identical houses that seems to have become a ghost town overnight. But the abandoned hamlet has dark secrets to tell, and Maura’s party may not be as alone as they think. Days later, word reaches Boston homicide cop Jane Rizzoli that Maura’s charred remains have been found at the scene of a car crash. But the shocking news leaves Jane with too many questions, and only one way to get answers. Determined to dig up the truth, she heads for the frozen desolation of Kingdom Come, where gruesome discoveries lie buried, and a ruthless enemy watches and waits.

My thoughts:

Jane Rizzoli and Maura Iles are two of my favorite modern fictional characters, and this was another great installment in their series. I enjoyed the return of Anthony Sansone, and hope that the delightful Rat will make an appearance in forthcoming novels. Tess Gerritsen hasn't disappointed me yet - I'm considering adding this series to my permanent collection!

Finished: 6/14/12
MPAA rating: R for violence and adult situations
My rating: 8/10

The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo by Darrin Doyle
published 2010
256 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In this charming novel, Darrin Doyle paints a captivating portrait of the all-American family--if the all-American family's youngest child ate an entire city in Michigan with a smile, that is. Doyle has a flare for writing about family dysfunction with a twist. With a unique blend of realism and fantasy, The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo is the moving story of the hauntingly beautiful Audrey Mapes, who began her illustrious "career" by downing crayons by the carton only to graduate to eating an entire city one bite at a time. With vivid, acerbic wit, Doyle details the life of the world's most gifted "eatist" through the eyes of Audrey's sister, McKenna. Through her eyes, we see the real tragedy of the Mapes story is not the destruction of a city, but rather, the quiet disintegration of a family who just didn't quite know how to love.

My thoughts:

Well, I broke one of my cardinal rules - I kept reading a book that I really was not enjoying. Someone loaned this one to me (Mom? Maria? I don't know, but it was on my "on loan" shelf, so I know it had to be someone...) so I felt like I should keep going - I mean, if they loaned it to me, it must be because they liked it, right?

It's not even that it was bad in any particular way - it was just so unrelentingly sad. Everyone was horrible to each other, and to themselves, and there was never any relief. This was dysfunction taken to a whole new level, and it just did not work for me.

Finished: 6/21/12
Source: ?? on loan from someone
MPAA rating: R for sheer depressing-ness, if nothing else
My rating: 5/10

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Thoughts - I, Iago by Nicole Galland

I, Iago by Nicole Galland
published 4/2012
400 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

From earliest childhood, the precocious boy called Iago had inconvenient tendencies toward honesty—a failing that made him an embarrassment to his family and an outcast in the corrupt culture of glittering Renaissance Venice. Embracing military life as an antidote to the frippery of Venetian society, Iago won the love of the beautiful Emilia and the regard of Venice's revered General Othello. After years of abuse and rejection, Iago was poised to achieve everything he had ever fought for and dreamed of . . .
But a cascade of unexpected deceptions propels him on a catastrophic quest for righteous vengeance, contorting his moral compass until he has betrayed his closest friends and family, and sealed his own fate as one of the most notorious villains of all time.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 6/8/12

I LOVE stories that make me root for the villian - and Iago is one of the best villians in literature. In Galland's version of the story, he is also incredibly smart, and quite funny. I was hooked on the voice she created for him from the first pages of the novel, and am suprised to find him equally sympathetic. He is "...more talented than a few, more industrious than many, and more intelligent than most..." (p. 60), and I'm beginning to think Othello must have had it coming. *grin*

I'm also a compulsive reader of author's notes, and in hers Nicole Galland shares the story of how she came to write this novel, and what transpired after, and that story was equally charming. This is the first book in quite a while that has made me seriously consider calling in "sick" to work.

Second Thoughts - 6/10/12

Galland certainly doesn't strip her Iago of all his faults - the jealousy and bitterness that would make a man betray his friend are all there, just simmering under the surface, waiting for the the right sequence of events to push him over the edge. He is difficult and complex, and his emotions feel very real. I'm impressed with the story she has written for this man.

I have to say, though, that my favorite character in the novel is Iago's wife, Emilia. Every bit as smart as her husband, with humor and compassion to gentle her wit - she is the kind of person I'd love to know in real life. Almost more than what it does to Othello, I hate the betrayal that is to come because I know how much it will hurt Emilia.

Galland's writing is strong, and the plot moves at a rapid pace. She obviously must have spent hours in research, because I feel like I'm learning about Venetian politics and military history as well. I'm enjoying this novel so much - I am excited to turn each page to see what will happen next.

Last Word - 6/14/12

The real tragedy in Galland's novel is not the fated death of Desdemona, or the suicide of Othello - it is is the fall of Honest Iago into deceit and treachery. Of course, his betrayal of Othello was brutal, but the ways in which he was able to decieve himself were the truly painful moments. It is always tragic to watch a good man descend into evil, and Galland showed the slippery slope that can lead to the previously unimaginable.

Iago was such a rich and complex character, but Emilia was still my favorite. Her strength and bravery made her the one I was really rooting for. I thought the author did a great job of giving life to familiar characters while still honoring the original story. I think readers who are not terribly familiar with the source material will still find this to be a compelling story - of course, those who know what's coming will only feel the tragedy more deeply, as they come to understand the inner workings of Iago's mind.

I loved this novel - I did not want to put it down, I talked about it at work, and I will highly recommend it to lots and lots of people!

Finished: 6/14/12
Source: review copy from the publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: R for violence, adult situations
My rating: 9/10

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pip and Tad's Playlist - Call Me, Maybe

My kids already have very eclectic musical taste - we listen to music a lot, and they have very definite opinions about what they like and what they can do without. I have a feeling this won't be the only thing they have opinions on......

Okay, true confession - my sister hates this song. It is such an earworm that usually I can't blame her - but when I found this fun version and played it for the babies, we all loved it! It just proves that you don't have to have fancy instruments to make music! Enjoy - and my apologies if you find it stuck in your head for the rest of the day......*grin*

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Re-Education of a Book Lover: Part One - Hard Times by Charles Dickens

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. Recently, however, it has come to my attention that there are some G A P I N G holes in my literary education. For example: I have read every Austen and Bronte you can get your hands on, but somehow have never managed to read a Charles Dickens novel in its entirety. So, with a little help from my mom, the English Teacher, and a couple of good friend, the English Majors, I am setting a course to re-educate myself by filling in some of those gaps.

First up - Hard Times by Charles Dickens (suggested by an English Major)

originally published in 1854


Classic 1845 novel offers a powerful indictment of the dehumanizing effects of mid-19th-century industrialization. Thomas Gradgrind raises his children, Tom and Louisa, in a sterile atmosphere of strict practicality. With no guiding principles, the young Gradgrinds sink into lives of desperation and despair, played out against the grim backdrop of Coketown, a wretched industrial community.

First Impression - 5/26/12

I think I'm most surprised about how much I'm actually enjoying the writing. I know Dickens wrote serialized novels, and was paid by how long he could make them, so I always expected his work to be a bit of a slog - page after page of nothing much. I knew he wrote a good story, but thought the reading of it would be more difficult. Pleasant suprise!

I'm reading a Kindle edition, and it tells me I'm about 23% finished. Mostly so far we've just been introducing characters, and (predictably, based on the title) most of them seem to be miserable. This first section is entitled "Sowing", and spends much time explaining Gradgrind's idea that children should be raised with only facts - no imagination. His kids chafe, but can't break free. Free-spirited Sissy Jupe is introduced into the mix, and is so far the only breath of fresh air in the bunch.

Second Thoughts - 6/1/12

Well, with a title like "Hard Times" I knew it wouldn't be a cheery read, but holy cow. Dickens clearly had issues with the disparity between the "haves" and the "have-nots", and this novel seems to be a not-so-subtle dig against the mill and factory owners of the time.  Additionally, he is railing against the Utilitarians, a philosophy of the day promoting rationalism and facts over imagination and compassion. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

"It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but, not all the calculators of the National Debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of these its quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated actions. There is no mystery in it; there is an unfathomable mystery in the meanest of them, forever."  (location 1281)

So, certainly not the lightest of reads. And yet, I'm finding a lot of humor that I hadn't expected. Many times I've found myself chuckling at Dickens' clever descriptions or bits of irony.

"She was a most wonderful woman for prowling about the house. How she got from story to story was a mystery beyond solution. A lady so decorous in herself, and so highly connected, was not to be suspected of dropping over the bannisters or sliding down them, yet her extraordinary facility of locomotion suggested the wild idea." (location 3478)

Dickens' characters are somewhat predictable - his good guys are very good, and his bad guys very bad. There are not a lot to like in this novel - I have sympathy for one or two, but even they frustrate me at times - I want to tell them to get a spine! But I know it's the style of the time, and I'm still very drawn into their story. I just completed section two - "Reaping" - and Louisa's showdown with her father is heartbreaking. Ultimately, the novel is making me want to read more Dickens, which is great!

Last Word - 6/2/12

Whew. Question for the audience - are all Dickens novels this depressing? Because, seriously, this one was a bit of a downer. Nothing good happened nearly the entire novel through. The moral of the story seems to be that life isn't fair, and good people will get shafted every time. (of course, the bad people get shafted, too, so at least he doesn't play favorites.)

That said, I did enjoy the novel. I was continually surprised at how easy a read it was - Dickens certainly has a different style than modern novelists, but I didn't find it difficult or slow going in any way. I think this was a great start to my re-education. It has certainly motivated me to keep going with my challenge!

Finished: 6/2/12
Source: my kindle
MPAA rating: PG - if it wasn't so depressing, it could be made into a Disney movie.
My rating: 7/10

Next up in my re-education: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin