Tuesday, November 27, 2007
This is my third book for the Canadian Book Challenge and was recommended by John after he read my review of The Stone Diaries. This was not originally on my list for the 2nds Challenge, but it does qualify since I read The Stone Diaries first. So I'm going to go ahead and count it as book number two in that challenge as well.
This is set outside of Toronto and is a snippet of the life of Reta Winters, an author, translator, and mother. In the story, Reta is writing her second novel during a period in her life when her eldest daughter, Norah, has taken to living on the streets of Toronto and panhandling at the same intersection on a daily basis. The story is partly about how Reta copes with this, how her family survives, but also how it affects her outlook on life and the role of women.
Strengths of Unless: This is a very different novel than The Stone Diaries. This one is told consistently in Reta's voice and, more importantly, with her temperament and perspective. Norah's predicament is moving and Shields is able to render Reta's emotions without being maudlin. She is actually a quite complex and thoughtful character. I especially liked the section of the book that dealt with the word "unless" - it was philosophical but completely in keeping with Reta's character and her ponderings throughout the novel. I also liked that Shields, through Reta, addressed the roles women play in life and how that is not always reflected in discussions of art, literature, or power. The ending was very satisfying as well. The cause of Norah's trauma made perfect sense given the way her character was created and given the message of the book. It worked for me on many levels.
Weaknesses of Unless: I really liked this one. My only complaint was that the husband's character was a bit weakly drawn. The story was told from Reta's point of view but I wasn't always sure what she saw in him. He was a bit too absent in the story. I did realize, as I was reading, that this was probably a deliberate choice by Shields to keep the focus on the women in the story.
Overall, this is a very reading experience from The Stone Diaries, but one I equally enjoyed. Thanks for John for the suggestion. I'd love to hear opinions from anyone who has read this one or others by Carol Shields.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Open and Shut is a first novel so I'm curious to find out if there are more by the author. It is a legal thriller based on a retrial of a capital murder case. The lawyer, Andy Carpenter, is asked to handle the appeal by his father, the original prosecutor on the case. In the story, Andy begins to realize that the evidence is too good and starts to truly suspect that his client is innocent. At the same time, he deals with his father's death and the disintegration of his marriage. It sounds rather melodramatic but it's not.
Strengths of Open and Shut: I really liked Andy, the lawyer in the story. He had a bit of a sassy smart-mouth which lightened the mood in the story. Even though it seemed a bit obvious, I liked how the author tied in Andy's personal story to the case. I was actually surprised by some of the revelations, which impressed me. The plot moved along rapidly, and it was a quick, fun read. The author didn't try to overreach and make the story more dense than it needed to be. I also liked Andy's love interest. I'd be interested in reading another book where her character got even more to do in the story.
Weaknesses of Open and Shut: The plot was a bit contrived, but I really enjoyed it. I really didn't like the wife's character, but that was necessary to the story. Andy is such a good guy that the reader wouldn't buy him leaving his wife unless we, as readers, didn't like her much either.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was a fun read with entertaining characters. I will definitely try another one by this author, and, hopefully, it is a sequel with more from the main characters in this one.
Friday, November 16, 2007
In this one, all of the regular characters are back: Kay; Lucy, her computer-gifted niece; Benton, her lover; Rose, her secretary; and Marino, her investigator and friend. The plot revolved around a series of gruesome murders linked to a famous self-help doctor who has appeared in another one of the novels.
Strengths of Book of the Dead: As always, the forensic science parts are totally cool. It's like James Bond gadgets but with Lucy and Kay in charge. Nice bit of female power. Scarpetta continues to be a strong character filled with flaws and nuances. She is not boring, and Cornwell has allowed her to grow during the series of books.
Weaknesses of Book of the Dead: (Spoiler alert - many of my issues will give away major plot points!) Everyone, and I mean everyone, is much too tragic in this one. Rose is dying of lung cancer ... Lucy has a brain tumor .... Marino loses his mind (and is left in sequel limbo) ... Benton is confused and bewildered ... Kay is engaged but with lots of doubts. I can see a crisis, or even two, in a well-written story, but this became way too melodramatic. Oh, and Rose is dating Kay's main competitor! Come on!
Then there's the murder plot. The reader knows all along who the murderer is but not who he really is. Cornwell pulled his identity out of her hat, and there was no real way for the reader to have that moment of "a-ha" - that's how it all tied in. There were facts the reader couldn't have known that were pertinent to his identify. Further, the ending left Marino lost and in limbo, and it didn't resolve any of the melodrama of cancer and brain tumors. It felt like Cornwell simply ran out of words, or wanted to make sure readers would buy the next book. (Spoiler ended!)
Overall, I was quite disappointed in this one. It was not as well-written as others in the series. The plot was much weaker, and I really didn't like the plot twists for the major characters. I wonder if this happens with other long-running book series. Do the authors run out of ideas for their characters? Do they get too comfortable, sure of themselves and more accepting of less quality in their writing? If you've read this one, I'd love to know what you think. I'm also curious to know if you've had the same experience of being disappointed in the latest book in a favorite series.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Today’s question comes from Conspiracy-Girl:
I’m still relatively new to this meme so I’m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?
I'm really not either. I don't write notes in books, but it's not because I need to preserve them for anything. I actually tend to either Bookmooch my books or donate them to my local library. I don't write in them because it distracts me from the story.
In college, I did write a lot of margin notes in books. I think today I'd probably use lots of colored sticky tabs and removable colored tape. That's actually how I teach students to notate books.
Short, quick answer this week! Happy Thursday to everyone!
Monday, November 12, 2007
- Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
- Anne Rice, Interview With the Vampire
- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
- Virginia Woolf, The Waves
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando
- Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
- Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
- Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
- Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
- Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness
- Nadine Gordimer, Burger's Daughter
- Harriette Simpson Arnow, The Dollmaker
- Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
- Willa Cather, My Ántonia
- Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
- Erica Jong, Fanny
- Joy Kogawa, Obasan
- Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
- Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child
- Doris Lessing, The Grass Is Singing
- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
- Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
- Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres
- Lore Segal, Her First American
- Alice Walker, The Color Purple
- Alice Walker, The Third Life of Grange Copeland
- Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
- Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
- Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
- Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina
- Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
- Susan Fromberg Shaeffer, Anya
- Cynthia Ozick, Trust
- Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
- Amy Tan, The Kitchen God's Wife
- Ann Beattie, Chilly Scenes of Winter
- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer
- Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays
- Mary McCarthy, The Group
- Mary McCarthy, The Company She Keeps
- Grace Paley, The Little Disturbances of Man
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
- Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
- Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart
- Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood
- Mona Simpson, Anywhere But Here
- Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
- Toni Morrison, Beloved
- Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm
- Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mr. Fortune's Maggot
- Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools
- Laura Riding, Progress of Stories
- Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust
- Penelope Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower
- Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits
- A.S. Byatt, Possession
- Pat Barker, The Ghost Road
- Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle
- Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac
- Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus
- Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca
- Katherine Dunn, Geek Love
- Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
- Barbara Pym, Excellent Women
- Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
- Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
- Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist
- Nancy Willard, Things Invisible to See
- Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry
- Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Disturbances in the Field
- Rosellen Brown, Civil Wars
- Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra
- Harriet Doerr, The Mountain Lion
- Stevie Smith. Novel on Yellow Paper
- E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
- Rebecca Goldstein, The Mind-Body Problem
- P.D. James, The Children of Men
- Ursula Hegi, Stones From the River
- Fay Weldon, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
- Katherine Mansfield, Collected Stories
- Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills
- Louise Erdrich, The Beet Queen
- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
- Edna O'Brien, The Country Girls Trilogy
- Margaret Drabble, Realms of Gold
- Margaret Drabble, The Waterfall
- Dawn Powell, The Locusts Have No King
- Marilyn French, The Women's Room
- Eudora Welty, The Optimist's Daughter
- Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries (I just reviewed this one!)
- Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John
- Tillie Olsen, Tell Me a Riddle
- Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
- Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
- Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day
- Alice Hoffman, The Drowning Season
- Sue Townsend, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
- Penelope Mortimer, The Pumpkin Eater
Sunday, November 11, 2007
- Treadmill :: Sweat
- Stroke :: Killer
- Exclusively :: Excluding
- Lash :: Fake (Many of you have heard my fake eyelash story!)
- Red carpet :: Premiere
- Credit card:: Offers - way more mail than I need!
- Points :: Bad discipline (I worked at a school that used a point system a long time ago - what a disaster!)
- Domestic :: Goddess
- 21 :: Drinking without a fake ID
- Inject :: A bit of humor into life
Saturday, November 10, 2007
There are actually three Mrs. Kimbles in the story. They share the same husband at various points in his life. We meet his first wife, Birdie, as a young mother who eventually struggles with alcoholism. His second wife, Joan, is a wealthy socialite who is a breast cancer survivor. His third wife, Dinah, is much younger. The story spans the 1970s and 1980s as Ken Kimble moves up the social ladder, trading spouses along the way.
Strengths of Mrs. Kimble: I loved this book. Each wife's story was as unique as she was. Each woman was portrayed as a complete individual, flaws and all. It was heart-breaking at times how the husband's character preyed on the weaknesses inherit in each woman - her youth or her insecurities. I grew to like each one for a different reason. Birdie, however, was my least favorite because it was hard to read about her descent into alcoholism and its effects on her children. I did appreciate the hints Haigh gave as to her attempts at happiness, and sobriety, with another man. I admired Joan's strength in the story as well as her ability to care about others. Dinah turned out to be my favorite character. I think that is because she grew the most by the end of the story. She became a complete person and was able to unify Kimble's children into an extended family. To some extent, she became the leader of the Kimble clan.
Haigh also did an excellent job of portraying Ken Kimble's character as he romanced and, later, disillusioned each wife. In a strange way, she was able to create a character that I both pitied and hated. He was more than a one note louse.
Weaknesses of Mrs. Kimble: I really enjoyed this one so the only weakness for me is that I could have spent an entire book with each of these women. I wanted to know more about Birdie's past and future, Joan's battle with breast cancer, and Dinah's life after the end of the novel.
Overall, I'd highly recommend this one. It was a fun, well-written read. Let me know if you've read it!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
I actually saw the movie of this book before I read the book. That's somewhat backwards for me since I normally read books first, but it was a hot summer day and the movie was $1.00!
I truly enjoyed the book. I loved the character of Opal and how she related to the dog. I also loved the quirkiness DiCamillo created in the characters Opal befriends in the town. I wish I had read the book first because I wonder how I would have pictured these people with my own imagination. It was hard to shake the actors' images from my head as I read.
I did find one significant difference from the book to the movie. In the movie, I found the father to be much more distant, and almost mean, at points in the story. However, in the book, I quite liked the father and felt somewhat sorry for him. He seemed a bit distant and dreamy, but did not have the hard edge I perceived in the movie. I wonder if it was intentional or simply my reaction to the actor in the role.
Overall, I found the book charming and would recommend it highly. It made me wish I still taught fourth or fifth grade because it would be a fun book to discuss with children. Let me know if you've read it and what you thought. I'd be especially curious to know how you felt about the father in the movie.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Shields has written a pseudo-biography of Daisy Goodwill Flett and follows this character from her birth in 1905 until her death near the end of the century so her life stories spans the incredible changes in Canada and America in the 1900s. However, Shields chooses to tell the story in selected vignettes of time.
STRENGTHS OF THE STONE DIARIES: The writing is marvelous, and Shields is able to draw the reader into this story even though she changes point of view throughout the telling of this life. I call it a telling, but it really feels like a remembering - how memories are indistinct at time and sometimes skip around to what may, or may not, really be important. That is what I loved most about this story. Shields was able to capture the life of an ordinary woman without an excessive focus on her role as wife and mother.
There is a segment, after the death of her second husband, where we hear about Daisy's life, and job, through a series of letters written by her and by others. These letters truly capture the time period, the 1950s, while establishing Daisy as an independent woman, which was not the norm for that era. Also, there is an incredible chapter where Daisy loses her job and sinks into a depression that is heart-wrenching because we are told about it from so many different perspectives that it is clear that no one really knows Daisy well enough to help her and, ultimately, she has to decide to not be depressed any longer in order to survive. I also loved the role of her female friends throughout the story. It really felt true to the friendships I've experienced with women in my own lifetime.
WEAKNESS OF THE STONE DIARIES: I'm sure the changing points of view and episodic story telling would turn off some readers. However, I adored the book so I really can't speak to its weaknesses. It is probably one of the best books I've read this year.
Overall, as you can tell, I adored this book. I loved the writing and the character of Daisy. I really felt like I was sharing her life, and the chapters where she declined into memory loss, and eventual death, where incredibly moving. I haven't felt this involved with a story emotionally since I cried through the end of Isabel Allende's Paula, and that's pretty high praise for me! Paula is probably my favorite book of all time so this one ranks right up there. I'd love to know what you thought about this one - even if you didn't like it. Let me know.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Here's this week's Booking Through Thuirsday question, and it'll be a quick easy answer for me!
What with yesterday being Halloween, and all . . . do you read horror? Stories of things that go bump in the night and keep you from sleeping?
I thought about asking you about whether you were participating in NaNoWriMo, but I asked that last year. Although . . . if you want to answer that one, too, please feel free to go ahead and do both, or either, your choice!
I absolutely hate horror novels. I am a complete wimp as my husband will attest. I can't stand scary movies or books and avoid them all. If I accidentally start a book and realize it is too scary, I'll put it down immediately. I hate being scared! I'm not talking just blood and gore - I'm not good with the really psychologically twisted stuff either. I've never read or seen Silence of the Lambs, and I avoid Anne Rice novels! I'm sure horror novels are well-written, but they are not for me.