Friday, January 30, 2009

Too Close to the Falls

by Catherine Gildiner


General: This is the story of a girl coming of age in the 50's on a boarder town in Upper New York. The small town in which she lived was called Lewiston, located very near Niagara Falls. Her father was owner/pharmacist of a drug store in Niagara. This was an idyllic small town where families knew one another, mother's stayed home and baked cookies for the kids, and no one divorced. However, Catherine's life was anything but "normal". Although she had happily married parents, her father's work kept him away from home from dawn until night six days a week. By the age of four, Cathy was working full time delivery for the pharmacy, and continued to work throughout her childhood, and before and after school. We are introduced to many of the townspeople who impacted Catherine's life in special ways, Roy, Mad Bear, Warty and Mother Agnese to name a few. Catherine's mother was eccentric, not holding Cathy to any rules and never cooking or cleaning.  However, she taught Catherine to read by the age of four and constantly instilled history lessons in their talks. She has a great memory for detail. 

Thoughts: Catherine was ahead of her time in a town in which she was a fish out of water. For a girl growing up in the 50's she was definitely not being brought up as Betty Crocker, but as a career woman. Although the story ends when she is a preteen so you don't really know what happens, you can imagine because of her nature; she just couldn't sit still. 
Funny that if she were in school today, the doctor would be medicating her for ADD, not prescribing her to work in her father's store to burn off her excess energy. What a different world!
Catherine is a good story teller, and many times her stories made me laugh out loud. 
I will say, I didn't like the ending. Not because it left so much unsaid, but because of the whole situation with the priest. Throughout the book, it is apparent that she struggled with religion (the Catholic church) her entire life, however I think you can take your "bashing" too far, and in this case I think she did. That entire story about her and the priest, and her friend Miranda with him, didn't ring true, just seemed another way to make the church look bad. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery

French Contemporary Fiction

General: In central Paris, in a very exclusive apartment, live two extremely intelligent people, both of them on a mission to keep their genius under wraps. Unbeknown to the other, or to most of  the world around them, their secret self is slowly seeping out. Under normal circumstances, their worlds would not collide, one of them being a lowly, fifty-four year old concierge, and the other the twelve year old daughter of wealthy tenants. However, these two begin to suspect the other's gift, and forge an unlikely friendship with the help of a new Japanese tenant, Kakuro Ozu.
Renee, the crusty old concierge, is a self-taught product of peasant farmers, who believes that each class must remain where they are and do what is expected of them. 
Paloma, is frustrated with her life, and her place in it, and is striving to find purpose and a reason to continue living. She begins writing two journals, in order to determine whether she should commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. The Journal of Profound Thoughts and The Journal of the Movement of the World.

Thoughts: This is a very unique book that speaks more through philosophical ideas than a major plot. However, there is a story and relationship with these characters that pull you quickly through the story. There are many thoughts dealing with finding beauty in life through art, music, poetry and literature. There are also many "profound thoughts" about the ways in which we deal with others. "We never look beyond our assumptions and, what's worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves."  
I'll leave you with just one more thought, "...if you dread tomorrow, it's because you don't know how to build the present,... Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity."
I like books that challenge your positions about life and relationships. I really enjoyed the language in this book as well, it was just beautifully written. (You might need your dictionary though.) You should read this.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

by Lauren Willig

Historical Fiction /Romantic Fiction

General: This novel is taking place in two time periods, today and 1803, as Napoleon is plotting to invade England. In the storyline of today, the main character, Eloise, is in search of information for completion of her dissertation on some British spies during the Napoleonic time period. She comes into a bit of complication with a particularly stubborn family member who would like certain dairies to remain private which would reveal the identity of one of the long unknown spies. In the storyline of 1803, Richard Selwick is the Purple Gentian, a daring British spy saving many from Bonaparte's guillotine. Two British young ladies travel to Paris, wishing to join his league, which creates many difficulties for all involved. This leads to the necessity of creating yet another spy, the Pink Carnation, whose identity remains undisclosed.

Thoughts: The story was very predictable, despite the author's obvious attempts to lead readers down primrose paths. As for labeling the book an historical novel, I'd say that is a stretch, unless just by citing Napoleon and his doings in the correct time period classifies a book as historical fiction, because that really is all I could see this story can claim. One other issue I had with the "historical" aspect, was the intelligent assumptions the characters made, which I don't think were very realistic given people of that generation. Otherwise, I might send it to "Romance", which is not really my type of book. Typical of other romance novels I have been persuaded to read, I found the dialogue a bit silly and I do not care for the very sappy descriptive love scenes (which I skip over). This was the selection of the month from my book club (I'll rate it a 4).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

British Contemporary Fiction

General: A young boy, in trying to overcome the recent death of his mother, becomes bitter when his father remarries and the new wife quickly gives birth to a baby boy. As David struggles to come to terms with his position in this new family arrangement, his imagination begins to get the better of him and he starts hearing his books talk. Then the voice of his dead mother lures him into an enchanted world where a woodsman and a knight agree to lead him to see the king. In this world, ruled by a crooked man who places David through a series of warped and frankly, gory fairy tales (think Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Billy Goats Gruff on crack) he finally reaches the castle. David learns some valuable life lessons along the way.....
does he get back home, or does he become king of this new world? The choice is left to him...

Thoughts: This was a quick fun read. I liked the idea of books talking, because I think books are generally written to give a message to people, and I'd tend to think a kid would be one who would hear books speaking. The warping of the fairy tales did go a bit overboard at times in the gruesomeness. I'm also wondering if Connolly might have some problems against women, as he did some pretty ugly portrayals of them here (this is my devil's advocate self). That huntress, the fat and sassy Snow White, those ugly harpies, the seductress Red Riding Hood, sleeping "beauty", even the mean stepmother! 
Despite those issues, it was a good adventure with a clever concept. There were valuable life lessons contemplated and personal growth.  Also, I typically enjoy a well written good vs. evil story. 


Online Book Club

I am in a monthly book club with a group of ladies where we read one book per month and then meet together to discuss and rate said book. The books are selected on a rotating basis by each member of the group. We each then give the book a number rating between 1-10. Because we are all friends, the meetings tend to be short on book discussion, quickly veering off to other life happenings. At one point, in an attempt to try and extend our discussion of these books, I began to challenge the group with questions (mainly negative, or opposite the general group reaction to the story).  In my mind I was doing this for fun and for us to spend more time discussing the books we all read. After all, we were a BOOK club. However, the reactions from my opposing opinions of the books were not well received. Many of them were upset that I was challenging their ideas, and more were upset that I was rating the books so low. I realized rather quickly that these ladies really weren't gathering for a book discussion at all, but that the book reading was an underlying excuse for a get together..... I have since stopped pushing the envelope..... however once you set yourself as that person, I guess that is how everyone views you. Even though I only did that for about 6 months (and I have been now going to this book club for about 2 years) I still have people apologizing to me about their book selection BEFORE they even reveal their choice to the group! 

So, here I am posting my own online book club, with no members (except me). I can say what I think about the book, and perhaps ask a few questions, post a few great quotes from the book, maybe who I know that might like to read it..... or not..... give it a rating (using the 5 star method) and hopefully, I won't offend myself :)