Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Thoughts - The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret River by Kate Grenville
published 2006
349 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

London, 1806 - William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. Soon Thornhill, a man no better or worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life.....

My thoughts -

First Impression (4/12/12) - I received this book two Christmases ago from Aarti, as a part of the LibraryThing SantaThing program. I was really excited to read it, and then 2010 happened, also known as the Year that I Hardly Read Anything. Since this year is the first time I feel like I am getting back into the swing of reading and blogging, I knew I wanted to make sure this book was a priority, and that was a very good decision.

I am just under 1/3 of the way through the novel, and it is gorgeous. Grenville's style is beautiful without feeling overblown, and I am not only enjoying the story, but also the act of reading itself.

"He did not know what it was that melted something in him, so he felt his face grow smooth with thinking of her, could even drift away into a dream of her that stayed with him all day, until he trudged up the steps at night hearing the water squelch in his shoes. Lying on his straw in the kitchen, waiting for sleep, the knowledge that she was above him in her room under the roof made something thicken in his throat. Sometimes, coming across her by surprise, he found he could not quite breathe for a moment, or find the words to answer her greeting." (p. 37)

William and Sal are gutsy characters - their life is the scary, dangerous one of London in the early 1800s, and they often have to do bad things in order to get by. But they are not bad people, these two, and it's not hard to hope that things turn out well for them.

I have a feeling this book might break my heart.

Second Thoughts (4/18/12) - "Cozy by lamplight, with the night kept outside and Blackwood's liquor warm in his belly, it was an easy enough promise to make. I would never, he said. Not never, ever, and she relaxed against him and was asleep straight away, her weight sweet as a child's against him while he stared into the shadows." (p. 165)

Oh, I can see where we are headed. Grenville is about to take her characters down an extremely dark road. I don't know for sure what the outcome will be, but I can sense the pain at the end. Books like this make me tense anticipating what I feel sure will happen.

This novel has a lot to say about the conflict between different groups of people - rich vs. poor, white vs. black, native vs. colonizer. These are touchy subjects, and handled lightly can easily give offense. So far, I think Grenville has managed to navigate the waters of race and class well - the attitudes and actions of her characters feel authentic, and in many cases I can relate to their feelings. As before, I am loving her prose - simply beautiful.

Last Word (4/22/12) - This book is really about the consequences of decisions - how every decision has a consequence, even the ones you think won't make any difference at all. At how those consequences can ripple through your life for years to come. And about how those consequences can change you in ways you never imagined you would change. It's about how a good man can make a bad choice, and how it feels to live with that choice for the rest of his life.

William and Sal are characters I won't soon forget - particularly Sal, whose strength was remarkable in the face of the life she was asked to live. Theirs is, ultimately, not a "happily ever after" story. Each of them must make a choice that determines the future of their family, and their choices are neither easy nor cheap. But they make them, and make the best of them, and come out stronger for it.

This novel has a feeling of melancholy that is difficult to shake. It was apparent from the start that a happy ending would be a stretch. But it was a fascinating read about a time and place I know very little about. If you are looking for a good literary fiction read, I definitely encourage you to check this one out!

Finished: 4/22/12
Source: Aarti from Booklust
MPAA rating: R for violence
My rating: 9/10

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Thoughts - Sunday Shorts

Just a few quickies -

By the Iowa Sea by Joe Blair
published 3/6/12

Synopsis from publisher:

After his first cross-country motorcycle trip, Joe Blair believed he had discovered his true calling. He would travel. He would never cave in to convention. He would never settle down. Fifteen years later, Joe finds himself living in Iowa, working as an air-conditioning repairman and spending his free time cleaning gutters, taxiing his children, and contemplating marital infidelity. “Our history,” he writes, “gains more weight day by day. And the future seems more and more unlikely to be anything cool at all.” Joe believes it would take an act of great faith or courage to revive in him the passion and promise that once seemed so easy to come by. What it takes, he discovers, is a disaster. When the Iowa River floods, transforming the familiar streets and manicured lawns of his neighborhood into a terrible and beautiful sea, he begins to question the path that led him to this place. Exquisitely observed and lyrically recounted, this is a compelling and often humorous account of an ordinary mans struggle to live an extraordinary life. Joe Blair lays bare the moving, hopeful story of a river that becomes an ocean and a love that is lost and found again, by the Iowa Sea.

My thoughts:

Gosh, I just couldn't feel sympathetic for this couple. The author's writing was good - sometimes quite good - and his descriptions of the flood that ravaged Cedar Rapids and its surrounding areas were compelling. But I found his dissatisfaction with his life increasingly shallow, and he and his wife remarkably irritating. I would read this author again if he wrote about a different topic.

Finished: 3/7/10
Source: review copy from publisher via Netgalley
MPAA Rating: R for language, adult situations
My rating: 5/10

A Feast for Crows: A Song of Ice and Fire #4 by George R.R. Martin
published 2007

Synopsis from publisher:

It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears....With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King's Landing. Robb Stark's demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist — or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.

But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces — some familiar, others only just appearing — are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead.

It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests — but only a few are the survivors.

My thoughts: Why in the world would they change narrators 4 books into a series? That was so weird. He was fine, really, but it took my a WHILE to get used to him.

I can see why fans of the series were so mad about this book - all the stuff that you are really interested in is never even addressed! But since I'm (potentially) the only reader on the planet who does NOT hate Cersei, it wasn't bad for me - my least favorite of the series, but still a good read.

Finished: 3/25/12
MPAA Rating: R - if they are lucky
My rating: 7/10

 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
published 2008

Synopsis from publisher:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Katniss' sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.

My thoughts: I wanted my husband to read this, so I got the audiobook and (of course) had to listen myself. It was a good production, although it did take me a bit to get into the narration. The scenes that excited me were even more exciting, the scenes that choked me up were even more emotional - I can only imagine what it will be like watching it on a big screen. This is the first time I've read this first novel since I've finished the series, and knowing how it all ends makes it more poignant. Small phrases and bits of dialogue have so much more meaning - this is a truly great series, and I'm happy to say it holds up on this second time through. Still very highly recommended.

Finished - 4/4/12
Source -
MPAA rating - PG-13
My rating - 9/10

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pip and Tad's Playlist - A Bushel and a Peck

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......

My grandma sang this song to her kids, my mom sang this song to me, and now I'm singing it to MY kids. (Not nearly as nicely as this video, but they still seem to like it.) I particularly enjoy this version of the song because it features Sharon, Lois, and Bram - a group I wish I could still find on TV, because they are GREAT!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Relative Reads - Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

 I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

 Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
published 2003
302 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

 "The dead don't talk. I don't know why." But they do try to communicate, with a short-order cook in a small desert town serving as their reluctant confidant. Odd Thomas thinks of himself as an ordinary guy, if possessed of a certain measure of talent at the Pico Mundo Grill and rapturously in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, Stormy Llewellyn. Maybe he has a gift, maybe it's a curse, Odd has never been sure, but he tries to do his best by the silent souls who seek him out...

In less than twenty-four hours, Pico Mundo will awaken to a day of catastrophe. As evil coils under the searing desert sun, Odd travels through the shifting prisms of his world, struggling to avert a looming cataclysm with the aid of his soul mate and an unlikely community of allies that includes the King of Rock 'n' Roll. His account of two shattering days when past and present, fate and destiny converge is the stuff of our worst nightmares — and a testament by which to live: sanely if not safely, with courage, humor, and a full heart that even in the darkness must persevere.

My thoughts:

First Impression (3/27/12) - This is actually my second try at this novel - I started reading it several years ago, and couldn't get into the quirky main character. He is certainly one of the most unique main characters I've ever read, and this time around I'm finding myself enjoying him. The entire cast, in fact, is fairly unusual - there doesn't seem to be a "normal" person living in the entire town of Pico Mundo, which is at times almost a bit distracting. Odd and his friends are VERY unique, and there are times when I feel that stretching at the boundaries of disbelief.

The writing is excellent - I love the style, I love the wisdom, and the humor Koontz invests in his characters. I didn't expect to enjoy the experience of reading this book quite this much, and it's been a pleasant surprise.

"You should not take this to mean that my life is romantic and magical. Too much mystery is merely and annoyance. Too much adventure is exhausting. And a little terror goes a long way." (Odd, p. 3)

Second Thoughts (3/31/12) - About 2/3 of the way in, and I love this novel. The characters that might have seemed a little TOO quirky to be true now have become good friends,and I am fully invested in their lives. There was one major twist that I did NOT see coming, and now I'm all tense and worried wondering what will happen next - the sign of a great suspense novel.

I think as the story progresses, however, my favorite part is the relationship between Odd and Stormy. Their faith in each other, respect for each other's needs and genuine love for their partner is quite lovely. I don't often appreciate a fictional love story as much as I do this one. It is truly beautiful to read, and I can't help but hope for happiness for both of these characters.

Final Word (4/4/12) - Wow, lunch break at work was not the place to finish this novel - I nearly burst into tears. I know this will make me sound like a huge book snob, but I cannot believe how good this was! I definitely have preconceived ideas about books that I call "pop fiction" - you know, the ones you see in the grocery store aisle - somewhat entertaining, quick reads, but not particularly thoughtful or well written. Dean Koontz has blown that misconception out of the water. This novel was spot on in every aspect - writing, characters, pacing, plot. I would absolutely recommend it - it will be one I look for to add to my personal collection, and will definitely read again. Fantastic.

Finished -  4/4/12
Source - loan from my mom
MPAA rating - PG-13 for adult situations and language
My rating - 9/10