Monday, August 23, 2010

Review - The Lovers by Vendela Vida

The Lovers by Vendela Vida
published 7/10
228 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Twenty-eight years ago, Peter and Yvonne honeymooned in the beautiful coastal village of Datça, Turkey. Now Yvonne is a widow, her twin children grown. Hoping to immerse herself in memories of a happier time — as well as sand and sea— Yvonne returns to Datça. But her plans for a restorative week in Turkey are quickly complicated. Instead of comforting her, her memories begin to trouble her. Her vacation rental's landlord and his bold, intriguing wife — who share a curious marital arrangement — become constant uninvited visitors, in and out of the house.

Overwhelmed by the past and unexpectedly dislocated by the environment, Yvonne clings to a newfound friendship with Ahmet, a local boy who makes his living as a shell collector. With Ahmet as her guide, Yvonne gains new insight into the lives of her own adult children, and she finally begins to enjoy the shimmering sea and relaxed pace of the Turkish coast. But a devastating accident upends her delicate peace and throws her life into chaos — and her sense of self into turmoil.

With the crystalline voice and psychological nuance for which her work has been so celebrated, Vendela Vida has crafted another unforgettable heroine in a stunningly beautiful and mysterious landscape.

My thoughts:

I haven't seen too may reviews of this book floating around the blogosphere, but I suspect when they arrive it will be a novel that receives high praise from a lot of people. I think, in my case, it is the kind of novel I was able to appreciate, but never fully enjoyed.

Vida writes about journeys, both physical and emotional, that are undertaken in the name of grief and love. While each of her characters navigates the choppy waters of their chosen path, she treats them as an interested but somewhat distant observer, which left me feeling disconnected from their stories.

I did very much enjoy Vida's writing style - it was sparse in a way that matched the tone of the novel well. She has a way of illuminating the small, seemingly insignificant moments of life that show how momentous they can truly be.

"Yvonne thought about how the meaningless talk between couples could fill days, years - an entire marriage. Sometimes it was the meaningless talk she missed most. She leaned over the back of the boat, studying the patterns of water in the wake. For a brief moment, Yvonne thought it was not impossible that she might meet a man one day and remarry. Then she exhaled sharply, extinguishing the thought as she would a candle."

Ultimately, while I recognized the skill and intent that crafted this novel, I was not able to connect with the characters, and so didn't feel compelled to read their story. It became the book that I set down to read something else. I have a feeling that my opinion will be in the minority - I'll be interested to see what the consensus is when I start to see other reviews popping up.

Finished: 8/15/10
Source: ARC from publisher - thank you!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 - nothing terribly explicit happens, but a lot is suggested
My Rating: 6/10

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review - Naked Babies by Nick Kelsh and Anna Quindlen

Naked Babies by Nick Kelsh and Anna Quindlen
published 1996
111 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Beautiful, witty, inspiring, and totally original--this is an unparalleled gift book for every mother and mother-to-be. The black-and-white photos often focus on one aspect of a baby--the perfection of a hand, the swirl of a cowlick, the smoothness of skin on the neck. Quindlen's essays, as graceful, snappy, perceptive, and personal as anything she has written, muse on special moments like a baby's first steps.

My thoughts:

This book was a gift from my aunt Rhoda, and it's a wonderful gift for anyone about to become a mom. The photographs by Nick Kelsh are stunning - all black and white, many focused on just an arm, or a foot, or an ear. They showcase everything that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy about babies - the pudgy, dimply, innocence that makes babies nearly impossible to resist. The beauty of these photos is in their simplicity, as Kelsh allows the pure joy of each baby to shine.

Anna Quindlen's essays are a perfect compliment to Kelsh's photos - writing about babies born, and growing, and learning, and leaving, Quindlen's eloquent yet simple style evokes just the right mood. One of my favorites quotes, from the section in which Quindlen is talking about babies eventually growing up, is this:

"I want to throw the lariat of my love and my arms around him and say: Stay still."

I've always enjoyed her writing, and these short essays are no exception. This is the kind of book that makes you laugh through the tears in your eyes and the lump in your throat. It was a joyful reading experience - highly recommended!

Finished: 7/27/10
Source: Aunt Rhoda - Thank you!
MPAA Rating: G, unless you don't want your kids to see pictures of naked babies
My Rating: 10/10

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review - The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin
published 6/2010
784 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear — of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he's done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey — spanning miles and decades — towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

My thoughts:

Okay, this? This is the kind of book I want to be reading right now. The kind of book that makes me forget about what is happening around me because I am so caught up in the story. The kind of book that makes me seriously consider setting my alarm early so I can get up and read more.
The kind of book that makes me anxious and nervous and heartsick and amused and introspective and entertained all at the same time.

Boy, did I enjoy this book. I love it when a writer can make me think at the same time as I am being entertained - it keeps me so much more engaged with the story. Most of my favorite books, movies, and TV shows have this in common. (Battlestar Galactica is a fabulous example, but that's a whole different conversation.) The Passage was chock full of these moments - in between chapters that caused me to tear up, and scary segments that had me worried about nightmares. I would love to read this novel with a book club - I'm sure it would contain lots of ']\great discussion material.

And Cronin's cast of characters is unforgettable. There are a LOT of them, but each one felt completely real and full of life. Cronin gives them all a chance to shine, and despite the length and breadth of the novel, I never felt overwhelmed or confused as the different groups of players entered and left the stage.

My least favorite part of the book? It's the first in a trilogy, and the ending was a SERIOUS cliffhanger, and now I have to wait who knows how long to continue with the story. Man, I hate cliffhangers.

I know this book won't appeal to everyone. It's long, and there are sections that move somewhat slowly - and, frankly, I can sense the vampire fatigue out there, and know some readers won't even consider another book about the current "monster of the week". But I hope you give it a chance, because it's so much more than just a scary monster story - it's about discovering who you are, and being brave in the face of despair, and choosing love when everything around you is falling apart, and hope. More than anything, it's about hope. And that's something we could all probably use a little more of.

Finished: 8/5/10
Source: my Kindle
MPAA rating: R, for strong language and violence
My rating: 9/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

The Book Smugglers
Rhapsody in Books
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Boston Bibliophile
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Devourer of Books
Estella's Revenge

This book counts toward:

42 Science Fiction Challenge
7/42 complete

2010 Challenge - Category 4, Bad Bloggers
2/20 complete