Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Thoughts: Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin

Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin
published 2009
393 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

It is the fall of 1951 at Mount St. Gabriels, an all-girls school tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Tildy Stratton, the undisputed queen bee of her class, befriends Chloe Starnes, a new student recently orphaned by the untimely and mysterious death of her mother. Their friendship fills a void for both girls but also sets in motion a chain of events that will profoundly affect the course of many lives, including the girls young teacher and the schools matriarch, Mother Suzanne Ravenel.

Fifty years on, the headmistress relives one pivotal night, trying to reconcile past and present, reaching back even further to her own senior year at the school, where the roots of a tragedy are buried.

My thoughts:

This is the first novel I've read by Godwin, after hearing many good things, and I don't think it will be my last. I was originally captured by the combination of private school + religious order, which usually result in good things for me. Then I noticed the author, and remembered I'd wanted to try something of hers out, so then couldn't resist.

I can't say that the plot itself was what kept me reading - I could sense the general direction by about 1/4 of the way through, and wasn't much surprised by how everything wrapped up. It seemed that there was a LOT going on, which was perhaps part of the problem - lots of events seemed promising, but were never quite fleshed out as much as I would have liked. I think subtracting just a couple of the storylines might have improved the pacing and kept me guessing a bit more.

But the characters - wow, this lady can write some interesting women. They all just felt juicy, and even though she used many traditional stereotypes, she invested them with an energy and strength that made then continually exceed my expectations. I've been thinking for two days now which was my favorite, and each time I think I've chosen, another pushes herself into my mind and makes me rethink my decision. I feel like I wish I could have known these women - they feel like real people I am sorry I have to leave.

If this novel didn't have such strong characters, I would probably forget I read it by next Wednesday. But Tildy, and Madeline, and Chloe, and Mother Ravenal, and the other women of this novel are going to be with me for a good long time. If this is the kind of book you enjoy, don't miss this one!

Finished: 8/26/11

Source: South Side library

MPAA rating: PG-13 for domestic violence and sexual situations

My rating: 7/10

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Thoughts: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
published 1996
835 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

My thoughts:

I was not going to start this series until the author was done writing it. I'd heard how fantastic it was, but I'd also heard that there were still (at the time) 2 books left, and the author tends to take 3-4 years between books. Given that I really hate cliffhangers, I didn't especially want to get sucked into something that I would have to wait 6+ years before I got to finish. And then that dratted HBO series started, and I accidentally got involved in it, and then it was too late - I had to start reading.

Having watched the series, I already knew the story for this first novel in the series - I was already familiar with the characters, and I was prepared for the book to seem just a bit stale. Boy, was I wrong.

This is easily the best novel I've read so far this year. The characters are so rich, and so completely realized - Martin gives them each such incredible depth and scope. Each chapter is told from an alternating point of view, giving the reader a chance to experience the story from all sides. And there are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in this novel - even the heroes and heroines make hard, sometimes brutal decisions, and even the villians are given a human side. (Except Joffrey. What a little twit.)

A Game of Thrones is 800+ pages, and at no point did I feel like Martin was writing to fill up space. There is nothing in this book that shouldn't be there - every single scene is necessary to the greater story, and the pacing of the novel is perfect. Martin manages to introduce an extremely complex, vast, and wholly unique world within the confines of the story, while still keeping the reader anxious to turn the next page. This world has fascinating religious, moral, political, and military maneuverings around every corner, and Martin handles them all perfectly.

There is literally no way to cram all my thoughts about this novel into one blog post - for the next book I will definitely have to write as I go. I was truly blown away by this novel, and I can't wait to start reading the next one. And it is going to KILL me to have to wait for the series to be finished, but I know it will be worth the wait. If you are a fantasy fan, I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Finished: 8/5/11
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: R for violence, sexuality, and brutality
My rating: 10/10

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Month in Movies

Here's what I've been watching this month:

The Tourist (2010) - Really, this wasn't a bad movie if you didn't expect it to be anything AT ALL like the promos they showed, and just let it be Johnny and Angelina looking pretty in Venice.

Hereafter (2010) - Now this movie, on the other hand, kinda felt like it was missing something. Like an ending. This really should have been better than it was.

127 Hours (2010) - Unlike The Social Network, I completely understand why this was nominated for Best Actor and Best Picture - James Franco was riveting, and even though I know how the story ended, I couldn't stop watching.

Blue Valentine (2010) - This was so hard to watch. Both of these actors were incredible, but the movie itself was painful. I felt like I was intruding on something I shouldn't be witnessing.

Despicable Me (2010) - Oh, I loved this movie. The humor was right up my alley, and being a mom myself made the "parenting" moments even more touching. And I want Minions!!

The Town
(2010) - I have to admit I haven't been a big fan of Ben Affleck's acting until now, but in this movie he was perfect. He and Jeremy Renner just WERE their characters - I believed every second. And Blake Lively as Krista gave me flashbacks to Adriana from The Sopranos - when she would up hurt in the hospital, and started talking to the agent, I suddenly knew exactly how her story was going to end. This movie was paced just a t e e n y bit to slowly for me, but otherwise I thought it was excellent.

Next up in my Netflix queue:

The Fighter
True Grit
Rabbit Hole