Friday, February 25, 2011

Parrot and Oliver in America

by Peter Carey

I chose this book because I had read many great reviews, but maybe I just don't know enough information about Tocqueville and his Democracy in America, which is the basis for this book, to have gotten as much from it as others. The book is very well written, contains many detailed descriptions and a few statements on the main character's reflections of life in America. I was a bit disappointed that not more emphasis was placed on these impressions, but instead focused on the relationship between Parrot and Oliver. 

These two characters narrated the book in alternating chapters, however I often found it confusing to recall whose "voice" was speaking due to the similar nature of their person. Oliver is a descendant of French nobility while Parrot accompanies him to the US as his servant, so some disparity of language should be evident, but it is not,  I am sure this was an intentional attempt by the author to display the equality of people regardless of their social status, but I frequently had to check who was "talking" for reference and clarity.

In general, the book is well written, but I think it is a bit more fictional history than historical fiction. Don't expect to come away with a greater understanding of Tocqueville's impressions of America.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saving Ceecee Honeycutt

by Beth Hoffman

Ceecee Honeycutt had a tough row to hoe! Although the story is predictable, the author does a good job of creating and developing unique characters who are rather quirky and enjoyable. The storyline is a typical tragedy to triumph novel, but lacks somewhat in flow. The book is a quick read when you aren't looking for anything deep.

Death With Interruptions

by Jose Saramago

Unmitigated satire. I found this a fun look at "death" taking a break from her work, bringing to light the complications of an eternity on earth through one country's experiences. The first half of the book expounds on the social issues of living forever in great detail. The second half of the book delves into the character of death and her inner turmoil with earthly relationships. 

Too bad Saramago couldn't have blended these two halves instead of running two separate short stories. His perception of the character of death brought the second half of the book to life. 

Reading this writing style can be a challenge at first, as he uses very little punctuation.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

by Ann Weisgarber

The American Dream? I guess for some, but the Badlands wouldn't be for me!

This was an interesting tale of early 1900's expansion. The unusual basis for the marriage and detailed descriptions of struggles to farm and ranch in a grueling environment provided some intrigue. Reading about that drought made me thirsty :) The book portrayed a very uncommon perspective on racial tensions as well, not only for Black Americans, but a sort of hierarchy: White, Black, "Agency" Indians.

For me, the ending was disappointing and a downer. So much was made of the 14-year struggle to survive in these harsh surroundings for such an ending..... don't want to give spoilers (anyway, the ending may not bother you).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks was the donor of the HeLa cell. This was the first human cell to be replicated and continually replicate outside of a person, thus providing the basis for much scientific research leading to many life-saving medical cures. (in layman's terms)

I liked how Ms. Skloot gave very detailed information regarding the HeLa cell and its advances in science. She conveyed the message without using difficult terminology, making the book accessible to everyone. She also managed to present two sides of a difficult and controversial subject. She told the story of the Lacks family and their frustration, misunderstandings and hurt throughout the scientific discovery process. She also explained how current practices (at the time) led to the family's discontent.

One troubling aspect for me throughout the story was the impression I had that the Lacks family mainly wanted to be monetarily compensated for the use of these cells in scientific research. Today, that would be common and expected, however at the time of cell extraction, Dr. Gey followed ordinary procedures and practices. When his experiment was successful, Dr. Gey freely gave the cells to any researcher; not using them for personal gain, only looking to possible advances in medicine and science.

I think this book has something for everyone; science, relationships, tragedies and triumphs.

Even Silence Has an End

by Ingrid Betancourt

An amazing story of captive survival in harrowing jungle conditions. Ingrid Betancourt was captured by the FARC and held hostage for over six years. She describes the situation and circumstances of her capture and captors, her fellow hostages, her mental struggles and the physical torture endured by the group. This book is written from her perspective and gives only slight consideration to the others enduring this alongside her. Many of the reactions of Ms. Betancourt had repercussions on the entire band of prisoners, but not much credit is taken by her of those consequences. She does a good job of explaining her mental processes and why she responded to the torture as she did.

The writing style is lacking and the time line is often confusing, but the story is amazing and demonstrates the courage of those held hostage.


I do have a reason for my long hiatus, but not a good excuse, because I was reading all along, just failing to post. Looking back, I regret this because it has been my only method of keeping track of my reading. I do not have a great memory of books I read and frequently when people ask me what I am reading I have to struggle even to recall the title. So I've realized I need a method of tracking my reading for two reasons: it helps with my memory (makes me sound old), it provides book club ideas when I select reading material for my group.

So I am back!