Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Looking for a good book?

I am always looking for books to read and have gone about that in a number of ways: friend recommendations, Bookmarks magazine and Amazon suggestions. I also have googled "books everyone should read" or "best books" for lists.
For some time I have been aware of the goodreads site, but did not use it as intended. I just used it for their lists of reading suggestions, but I never created an account until yesterday, and wish I had done so long ago! Once registered (it's free), you are led to select your favorite reading genres. After this you begin rating books you've read within each genre, selecting ones that you'd like to read, etc. If you rate a book 3-star or above, the site immediately adds a short list of similar books you also might enjoy reading. At the end of this process you end up with a bookshelf of books you'd like to read and goodreads recommendations based on your favorites. This is very cool!

Another site my DH introduced to me is Pixel of Ink, which is a site offering free and bargain Kindle books. You can register to receive daily emails offering each days free or greatly discounted ebooks.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Woman in White

by Wilke Collins

The Woman in White does not fail as the precursor of the modern mystery genre with it's gripping tale of an innocent woman in love with a man who is not her equal, being forced into a marriage with a greedy brute whose only interest is her inheritance. Collins weaves an absorbing story through a number of first person narratives that build upon one another revealing a spiteful wrong and the efforts at vindication through a search for that elusive woman in white.

While this is a well told and well written novel, it does fall into the traps of many Victorian classics: wordiness, melodrama and excessive description. And as with those novels, it captures the essence of British society, roles of women, inequality, rules of law and even delves into the standards and quality of medical care. In addition, many common themes are present in this story: thwarted love, inheritance, aristocracy and the class system, the delicacy of a woman's nature and the triumph of good over evil. All of these aspects Collins presents in a twisting mystery that might have you second guessing yourself.

The original story was published as a serial, which may have been a great way to read it. When Stephen King's The Green Mile was first released, it was done in this manner and I could hardly wait each month for the next segments publication; it was great!

This would be perfect to read by the pool this summer and you can download it free from Amazon.

The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller

This is not the modern-day Iliad as promised by reviewers, but rather the story of a relationship between a god and a man. Unfortunately, reading this book may ruin your remembrances of Homer's legendary epic since Ms. Miller gives second place to the Trojan War, pursuing instead a supposed homosexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. When the story first showed signs of moving this direction I was taken aback. I hadn't read the Iliad since high school, but remembered it being one of my favorite assigned reading materials. I certainly didn't recall any romantic relationship between the hero and his companion, but wondered if in my naivety I had misunderstood that as a teen. But no, after a quick Spark notes check, I was reassured that this author wanted to make a statement. I was very disappointed in this rendition of the friendship between Patroclus and Achilles because I had always compared it to the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible. I was also disappointed that so much of the story was spent developing this affair and so little spent on all that matters regarding Troy, Greece and the wrath of Achilles, which was the main focus for Homer.

I will give credit to Ms. Miller in her writing style, which is captivating and engaging, but the gushing love affair was not only too much for my tastes, but skewed my view of an otherwise admirable companionship between two men.

Furthermore, I can't imagine The Song of Achilles appealing to anyone I know following this blog. For a second time this month I say, "Stick with the classic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Listening is an Act of Love

by David Isay

This book came highly recommended by one of my "pew pals" at church so I was anxious to read it, but because I had such great exercise success with my previous audiobook, and because the title is Listening is an Act of Love, I thought this might be my next exercise motivator. Unfortunately, this is NOT the audiobook to buy for a number of reasons:
1. It is a tearjerker! Crying and exercising do not mix.
2. It is VERY abridged: so much so that it isn't fun. Each person's story in this audio version is so shortened that you barely get a sense of what they are discussing before the next clip begins. Granted, this is my fault for not carefully reading the fine print on the description, which gives listening time as 55 minutes, but I did not see the word "abridged"anywhere.
3. I realize here again this problem is solely mine, but I could not find a way to slow down the listening speed, so instead of 55 minutes of dialogue, I heard 37. These were some fast talkers :)

However, what I did learn from the snippets of this audiobook is that I want to read the real thing. A few of the excerpts were really memorable:
1. A Black American lady was trying to register to vote in the 40's and was stopped from doing so by a registration board (a panel of white men) who asked her frivolous questions. This woman did not give up her efforts to register, but went daily to the board until she got her voter ID. Typically, these racial stories turn me off a bit because sometimes I think harboring those feelings and continuing to revisit them only causes more division among a society trying to overcome, but her telling of it was moving. This emotion is one thing that you wouldn't get by reading the book.
2. A man who lost his fiance in the 9/11 disaster. This man clearly still loved the woman and talked about how she made his life better. The thing that pained me the most about his story was his ending when he said, "Don't worry Karen, I will see you again. I will do enough good to make it up there." I just wanted to grab that man and say Don't worry mister, Jesus already did enough good for you to make it up there!

This was a neat idea, but I am not going to rate it because I didn't get enough to do so. I'm sure you'll see an addendum in the near future. The one thing I can rate is the audiobook, which clearly I DO NOT recommend; go for the text.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

This is actually the third time I started to "read" A Thousand Splendid Suns. You'll note the quotes surrounding the word read because I actually listened to the audiobook, and this was the third time I started it. I first got the CD's to listen to on a lengthy car trip where I was the only driver, but never got past the very beginning. At a later date, I transferred the CD's onto my ipod, thinking I would listen, and again started and didn't get too far. What led me to this final attempt (and I did listen to the entire story this time) was my need for some change in my exercise or motivation to do so. I decided to try listening to a book rather than music while I ran on my elliptical trainer, and surprisingly, this worked! What was happening is that my playlists were all so familiar that I began counting minutes on the elliptical.... with the book, each day something new was happening and that kept me interested in something other than the clock, even though I did not find this a particularly good book, it was plenty to serve its purpose for me.

Now I will get down to the business at hand, the review. I think it's only fair for me to rate this in two parts: audio and story. I'll begin with the audio because I believe that may have had a major impact on what I heard of the story. I did not like the narrator at all. Although she had a nice speaking voice, she talked/read SLOW!!!! It drove me crazy at first, but I decided I'd accept that because, as I said, it was keeping me going on the workout. I have learned that many audiobooks offer a read speed option, which this book did not, but would be of benefit. In addition to her slow speech, she had an annoying tendency to read with an accent only those words or phrases in the story that were native, kind of like Giada de Laurentiis does in her cooking show whenever she says Ricotta (ree COOO tah) but speaks normal English the rest of the time. This bothers me.

As for the story, the author does a good job of depicting life for women in a Muslim society and provides an elementary history of Afghanistan from the mid 1960's through the early 2000's. Overall this is well done, but some of the allusions rubbed me the wrong way, and here I should say that this may be a result of the narrator's tone and I may not have had the same reaction if I were reading it myself, it's hard to say.
I liked the women in the book and liked hearing of their hardships and efforts to overcome, but the second problem I had with the book is that it went too long! The story should have ended right after the final ordeal with Miriam (not a spoiler), which would have meant at least 2-3 hours less listening time and the rest of the story would have gone without saying. The author/editor needs to remember that wrapping everything up into a tidy package isn't always beneficial and often detrimental.

Although it's too late for me to read this story anew, hundreds who did actually read it (as opposed to listening) gave it 4 1/2 star reviews, so if you are inclined, I might say try the print.

No matter though, for now I am looking for another audiobook and my heart thanks me :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is promoted as a "modern day" Jane Eyre. I loved Jane; Gemma is no Jane, much as she may try! Rather than using Bronte's classic as a springboard, Ms. Livesey used it as a sort of checklist, and unfortunately missed the mark. In the beginning of the novel the two stories run almost exactly parallel: Jane/Gemma orphaned, move in with cruel aunt, blamed for fight with mean cousin, gets sent off as a working student at a poor boarding school, makes friends with sickly girl who dies in her arms, becomes teacher to orphaned niece of Sinclair/Rochester, falls in love with him etc. In the instances where Livesey veers from the classic she does so to the detriment of the story and characters: her reason for leaving Mr. Sinclair at the altar, the lesbians who revive her, stealing from the family who hired her in her time of need and her reconnection with Sinclair.

I'd like to say that Ms. Livesey has a nice writing style, but I found it hard to focus on that when I was constantly comparing her book with Bronte's, and hers just didn't measure up. Maybe if she tried something of her own imaginings her style would shine.

For anyone who may feel inclined to read Gemma Hardy, I'd suggest you just dust off your copy of Jane Eyre instead.