Monday, April 25, 2011

Kings of the Earth

by Jon Clinch

Hmmm. It's hard for me to identify my response to this story. It took me several days to finish reading and I can't exactly explain why. It is not a difficult read, but it does take some concentration because of the constantly shifting time line and the variety of perspectives and voices. And while Kings of the Earth was a straightforward tale, I couldn't seem to connect with or care about the characters (and there are so many of them)! I found it easy to set the book down and not really anxious to pick it back up again.

This book is based on the Ward brothers of New York, three extremely eccentric and backward rural men. When one of the brothers dies, a police investigation and interrogation lead to another of the brother's being accused of his murder. Sadly, these guys don't understand what is happening to them. Although this would seem like a good story plot, it somehow doesn't materialize in this book.

Clinch does a very good job portraying these reclusive brothers, their family and neighbors, and their unconventional lives from childhood through adulthood. I guess all the hopping around didn't lend to a very cohesive book. Since I don't like giving spoilers, I'll just say that after all the work to get to the end, it comes fast and leaves so many loose ends.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Paris Wife

by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife is a narrative of the first marriage of Ernest Hemingway to Hadley Richardson as told from her perspective. This unlikely pair lived a jet-set life in Paris during the 1920's when it seems everyone who was anyone appeared on the scene there. Writers and artists were the celebrities of the day and lived the wild lives we read about in the tabloids today.

Ms. McLain portrays Hadley as a misfit among this crowd who struggles with self esteem, confidence and backbone. Hadley gets into this marriage determined to support Hemingway as he launches into his writing career and then she watches helplessly as their relationship disintegrates and Ernest finds other love interests. Hadley's position and lifestyle is nothing I can relate to but it is a well written and interesting fictionalized biographical account of these Paris years. I guess I now should read A Movable Feast to see this time from Hemingway's own perspective.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Alchemist

by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is more fable than novel. It is a quick, uplifting and thought-provoking tale of a young man in search of his Personal Legend. During his pursuit the boy encounters omens to guide him, helpful friends to encourage him and challenges to strengthen him. Coelho weaves into this journey several accounts from Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious tradition and forms a connection through the hand that writes the stories of our lives and the history of the world.

A lot of familiar wisdom is spoken in this story: pursue your dreams, don't give up, listen to your heart, you are the creator of your future, focus on your goals and don't get side tracked by burdens or the world around you and many more. This is a story that could offer new revelations for a reader based on their current life circumstances. It could bring to light different inspirations for different readers.

Definitely no literary masterpiece but it's worth the read.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

by Novella Carpenter

Once I have begun reading a book, I rarely fail to finish it; my thinking, "surely this will get better." If Farm City had not been a book club selection, I definitely would not have finished it. The more I read the less I liked it.

The biggest turn-off for me was the voice and attitude of the author. Ms. Carpenter has a holier-than-thou approach to her urban farming and seems to think she deserves an award for her gardening and animal raising prowess. She also goes on and on about her dumpster diving expeditions, her fears about killing the animals she is raising for food and her ghetto neighborhood. It seems Carpenter's motive for farming is not so much her ecological commitment as her desire to elevate herself above non-farmers/grocery shoppers/those who are not as green as she. Additionally, she is anxious to share so much of the grossness she encounters in great detail it becomes monotonous.

I'd say don't waste your time, but I do know a few people who might like this book.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

O Pioneers!

by Willa Cather

This is a beautiful novel of the land and of a young woman who belonged to it. The author tells the story of early settlers in Nebraska, their hardships and struggles with the land and life. She introduces a strong young woman who has big ideas and great determination of will not very common in that generation. This character is really ahead of her time. Cather also introduces a number of complicated relationships both between family members and between men and women.

I really liked how Cather used the land when alluding to characters and life circumstances. She focuses on the harshness of the land, it's beauty and its eternal quality. The story shows human reliance on the land and peoples struggles to make it conform to their wishes.

The introduction of my copy defines a classic as literature that has withstood the test of time and is not bound by place, time or customs. It speaks to us today as it did to the past and will to the future. O Pioneers! is definitely a classic. I would also recommend her other renowned novel My Antonia (*****).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Alienist

by Caleb Carr

Many reviews labeled this novel an historical mystery, but I am not sure mystery is really the right category. The Alienist tells the story of the blossoming field of criminal psychology as the main characters seek a serial killer in 1896 New York City. From the outset the reader generally knows whodunit, the main question is WHY these murders are happening and based on this information can our heroes predict the next attack in order to stop the killer.

Carr does a great job bringing the Gilded Age to life through the sights, smells and activity of the late 1800's. His descriptions of restaurants, operas and NYC ghettos bring the story to life. He has included so many facts of the time as to make the created characters seem real. One aspect I found particularly intriguing was his use of Theodore Roosevelt as NYC police commissioner; he included such details of Roosevelt's actual life including some aspects of his childhood, college studies and other information maybe little known to most readers. Carr also includes other real people like James Riis, JP Morgan and William James who each played a significant role in NY during this period. I found myself googling these people to get additional information. This book brings out the historian in the author.

The book was lengthy (500 pages, small print) but rarely seemed long. Many of the details relating to the murders were grotesque (I could have done without that) but the facts that attribute to the development of criminal science and forensics that are prevalent today are very interesting.

If you're a fan of historical fiction this is one of the better ones I've read. But be warned, the forensic details are gruesome and the general theme of serial killer hunting young boys is not pleasant either.