Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tried it and Tossed it

Not every book works for every reader - and I tend to be a particularly impatient reader. Here are a few books I tried that just didn't work for me.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
published 6/5/12
432 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media — as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents — the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter — but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

My thoughts -

Ugh. I do not have words to express how much I disliked this book. Apparently when you get to page 150, it just sucks you in and won't let go - I didn't make it that far. I understand dislikable characters. I understand dishonorable deeds. This novel was both, to the extreme, and I didn't care enough about the ingenious plot twists that awaited me to keep reading.

Abandoned 5/4/13

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Thoughts - Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler
published 1979
264 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back again and again for Rufus, yet each time the stay grows longer and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana"s life will end, long before it has even begun.

My thoughts -

I don't know that I exactly enjoyed this novel, but I'm not sure that was its intent. When she was interviewed about Kindred, Butler stated that she wanted to help modern readers "experience" slavery  - I think in that regard her novel was very successful. I don't know that I've ever read a novel that expresses the uncertainty and tension surrounding slavery as well as Butler was able to do with this novel. Each time Dana travels back in time, she arrives at a new situation, with new dangers and difficulties, and each time she has to figure out how to fit in and lay low until she can make her way back to the present. This feeling of not knowing what to expect from minute to minute was palpable, and I could feel it as I read the novel.

Butler also seemed to have interesting ideas about the "house slave" vs. the "field slave", and the tensions between the two groups. I sense that much of Butler's purpose is to see if the reader can put themselves in her characters' shoes - can you understand why Dana makes the choices she makes? Can you see through Rufus' eyes to why he acts the way he does? Can you identify with enough in Alice to see why she chooses the life she ultimately does? It's not an easy thing, and I struggled with it - and with many of the characters' choices - but it was valuable for me to purposefully think they way they would be forced to think.

I did have some problems with the novel - there were parts that seemed rushed, and I had SO many questions that remained unanswered. I never felt like this was a pleasurable reading experience, exactly - it felt like something I would have read for a class in college, and while I could certainly appreciate the novel for its merits, I don't think I ever truly enjoyed the reading of it.

Early in the novel, Dana says, "I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery." I think that is true of most of the evil that is perpetrated in the world, and a stark reminder that it's up to each person to keep evil from taking root. Despite some problems, I definitely recommend this novel - it's a fascinating premise, and chock full of powerful and challenging ideas.

Finished - 5/13/13
Source - Kindle library
MPAA rating - R for violence and adult situations
My rating - 7/10

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What's Making Me Happy This Week

(idea shamelessly stolen from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, which also makes me happy every week.)

The kids and I got to spend Mother's Day with my mom, my sister & brother, and my niece. It's rare for us all to be able to get together, so this was very special.

"So I took her phone from her and tossed it." 

This is the best thing I've read all week. There are too many rude people, and I support actions like this 100%.

So You Think You Can Dance is back! This show is the highlight of my year - oh, how I wish I could dance!

THIS!! This means something in my garden is actually growing! This is my first year to try to plant vegetables, and gardening with two-year-old "helpers" is a shady proposition at best. But these little sprouts mean something I put into the ground is really growing - I'm so excited! Now I just hope I can keep the predators - four-legged AND two-legged - away long enough for a vegetable to show up! 

What's making YOU happy this week? Share with me in the comments - we all need a little happy sometimes.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Thoughts - Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
audiobook read by Davina Porter
published 1991

Synopsis from publisher -

The year is 1945. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband when she touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is hurled back in time to a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord 1743. Catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, she soon realizes that an alliance with James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, might be the only way to survive. Thus begins a work of unrivaled storytelling that has become a modern classic.

My thoughts -

It's so hard to even review something like this - it seems less a novel and more a life event, particularly after you've spent SOOO much of your life with these characters. (This book is long, folks!) And I would be lying if I said I loved every minute of it - there was a time around hour 15 that I was pretty seriously wondering why I'd decided to tackle this monstrosity. But something kept me listening, and then suddenly I was completely sucked in.

There were definitely parts of the novel that didn't sit quite right with me. There seemed to be A LOT of introductory stuff in the beginning - I realize it's a bit of a complex plot, but holy moly, just get to the good stuff already. And I realize that Claire is a "contemporary" women thrust back into a foreign time, but she says and does really stupid things REALLY often. Honey, learn the lesson - it's not 1945 anymore, and people will kill you.

Overall, though, I have to admit I enjoyed it. Once Gabaldon finally got the ball rolling, Claire and Jamie's relationship was a lot of fun to watch blossom. I love her cast of characters - particulary Jenny and Ian, and hope to revisit them in future novels. Claire gets herself into a whole litany of crazy escapades, and Jamie seems to manage to save her from them all - what more could you want in a novel?

I very much enjoyed the narration by Davina Porter - what a fantastic voice for this novel! She expresses so much with just a slight differentiation of tone - the perfect choice for this book. Again, the quality of the audio was a bit sketchy - I could clearly hear coughs and traffic noises in the background as Porter was reading.

Will this be the best novel I read all year? Probably not, but it was certainly entertaining while it lasted, and I will most likely be picking up the next in the series before the year is out.

Finished - 5/12/13
Source -
MPAA rating - R for a lot of violence and adult situations
My rating - 8/10

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Shorts

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
182 pages
published 1979

Synopsis from publisher -

When an eccentric millionaire dies mysteriously, sixteen very unlikely people are gathered together for the reading of the will...and what a will it is!

My thoughts -

Another selection from the top 100 Chapter Books read-along, The Westing Game is probably my least favorite of the novels so far. Part of it might be just a general reading malaise - I am having a hard time finding anything that is really catching my interest right now. I didn't find any of the "quirky cast of characters" particularly interesting, and the mystery itself seemed pretty easy to solve. 

Finished - 5/1/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some violence
My rating - 6/10

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
published 1/31/13
432 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London; working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward; both of whom she is deeply drawn to; Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius - and madness - in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.

My thoughts -

This novel perhaps suffered from a bit of over-hype - I'd read a LOT of good reviews, and so had extremely high expectations. When I read it, however, I found it to be good but not as compelling as I'd hoped. I think it's a fascinating idea, but somewhat lacking in execution. The love triangle was not at all compelling, and I thought it took away from what were some really interesting ideas that didn't get fleshed out. Apparently this is the first of a trilogy - I will wait and see if I am interested enough to pick up the second novel.

Finished - 5/3/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - Holy hard R - vivisection, people.
My rating - 6/10