Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Beginnings On Friday: Shutter Island

"I haven't laid eyes on the island in several years."
Page 1, Sentence 1 of Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.

Because I don't want to leave you there, I'd rather supply you with the entire first paragraph, which was certainly enough to get my attention and make me interested in reading more of the book. While not the strongest first paragraph of a book I've ever read, the imagery is quite nice.

"I haven't laid eyes on the island in several years. The last time was from a friend's boat that ventured into the outer harbor, and I could see it off in the distance, past the inner ring, shrouded in the summer haze a careless smudge of paint against the sky."
The first paragraph (of the prologue) gives you a definite feeling for the tone of the book, and the entire prologue really made me want to continue reading. A fairly good start, all in all.

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

Book Review: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Author: Fannie Flagg
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Genre: Chick Lit
Star Rating: 4/5
Buy: Amazon

My Summary: A very character-driven book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe follows the story of the people who live in Whistle Stop Alabama from the late 1920s all the way through to Birmingham in the 1980s. The story is told in second and third person, going back and forth between conservations between Evelyn Couch and Ninny Threadgood.

Themes: Racism and race relations before the civil rights movement and after; vague GLBT themes; small town life

My Thoughts: I loved it! This book is a new favorite of mine, which took me by surprise.

I really enjoyed reading about the various lives in Whistle Stop, Alabama and the stories that were threaded throughout the novel. I also felt that this was well-accomplished and neatly done by Fannie Flagg, though there are many others who disagree (see reviews on any of the networking sites listed above).

If you haven't seen the movie (and I hadn't, would you believe it?), please be aware that this book jumps around in time quite a bit, from the twenties to the thirties, to the eighties to the forties to the twenties and back again, over and over. Sometimes story lines drop off entirely only to be picked up again much later in the book. This worked for me, but I can see how others might have struggled with this.

I hear the movie is better than the book -- it's going to have to work hard to do that for me when I get a chance to see it!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I got an Award! The Prolific Blogger Award!

I haven't been blogging at this site for especially long, so you can imagine my surprise when I checked my e-mail and found this! The award comes from Bethany at Words, Words, Words. I haven't been following her blog for all that long, but I'm really glad that I am. What roped me in was her love of Anna Karenina. This is a book I've read twice, and now want to fully absorb as an adult. I have to say that I really poured over her thoughts on this book.

She's intelligent (like all the bloggers I follow!), and I appreciate her taste and thoughts on the books that she reads, most especially because so much of her personality comes through.

A prolific blogger is one who is intellectually productive, keeping up an active blog with enjoyable content. After accepting this award, recipients are asked to pass it forward to seven other deserving blogs.

I had a really tough time deciding who to give this award to. I wanted to give it back to Bethany, but she'd already given it to fifteen people (which is a lot) and I didn't want to make her choose seven more people :)

So, without further ado... I chose eight of the blogs I follow! 
1. Juju at Tales of Whimsy
2. Chris and Jess Park Benches and Book Ends
3. Miel Abeille at Reminder List
4. Cat at Tell me a Story
5. Rosalind at The Vanishing Lake
6. Sarah at Loving Books

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Reader's Lens

Since finishing my review of Revolutionary Road yesterday, I've had some time to do some thinking, and of course some time to explore other reviews of the book (I've learned not to do this while I'm reading a novel or I will become distracted and sometimes find it affects my enjoyment of a book.

For the most part, I don't filter my reading. I read virtually every genre (though I prefer not to read sci-fi or books that are driven by a political agenda -- you'll see a few from me, but not a lot). However, I do tend, as I believe we all do, to read through the lens of my personal experiences with life and different situations.

So, for example, when I'm reading Revolutionary Road, I'm not looking for a hidden agenda. I'm not looking for a deep message and meaning that will alter my life as I know it. In this case, because the book is so character-driven, I allowed myself to connect to the characters, but I also went a step further: I allowed myself to, in theory, learn from the mistakes that they had made. That, I suppose, is my "lens." My lens said "possibility" and from reading reviews, others wore the lens of "futility."

I find this interesting. At this point I can't say what Yates' intentions were, but I know what I took away from the experience of reading this book. My lens makes it no less incredible, though I wonder if the opposing lens will reveal such a beautiful book.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

Title: Revolutionary Road
Author: Richard Yates
Pages: 463
Format: Paperback
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Star Rating: 5/5
Network: Goodreads | Shelfari | LibraryThing
Buy: Amazon

My Summary: April and Frank Wheeler, along with their two children, aren't really suited to suburban life in 1955 America. Frank has a job where he doesn't really have to do (much of) anything, and April was never really suited to the life of a house wife. They want something bigger, and something better. There's only one thing standing in their way....

My Review:  This book is amazing, and you should read it. This book challenged me to think about my preconceived ideas of what it must have been to live during the 1950s and I have been changed by a fascinating and skillful narrative that I will never forget. I know, finishing this story, that April and Frank Wheeler will stay with me.

Revolutionary Road is undeniably a sad book. You may feel horror, revulsion, disillusionment when reading this novel. I believe that is how Yates intended the story to be read. But if you let it, this is the kind of book that comes along so very rarely: it is a book that will take you along with it, based purely on the reality of the story and the people in it.

More after the jump! (May contain spoilers!)

Teaser Tuesday: Fried Green Tomatoes (4/27/2010)

From Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg, page 61:

"She knew she couldn't go through any more days waiting for test results, and decided that she really did not want to know if anything was wrong, and preferred to drop dead in her tracks, never knowing."

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Internet Problems cause Blogger Frustrations

I'm having a lot of trouble with my Internet for the past few weeks. Although we had someone come by to fix it, the problem has not been resolved and as you may already have guessed, my husband and I are more than a bit furious. We're both bloggers (he has a political site) and the entire mess puts a huge strain on both of us. I've been doing less and less serious blogging.

While this means more time for books, it also means that I'm spending less time cultivating my writing (and lately, "cultivating" is almost all I do with my writing).

The good side of all this is that Revolutionary Road is getting all of my attention. I find that often I read in a distracted way, trying to figure out what is going to come next. What will I be reading next? What kind of review am I going to give this book? Will people judge me based on my opinion of this book? These are all regular concerns of mine when I'm reading for an audience (and isn't that what we do as book reviewers?).

A few things have happened: the first is that I have realized that I won't always be able to publish a review immediately upon having finished reading a book. If it is raining outside or Google is having a funk, I don't get a chance to publish diddlysquat. The other thing that has occurred to me is what a great bunch book bloggers are. It isn't always the same on Amazon, or any of the social networks, but YOU (my audience and fellow book bloggers) are amazing. A couple of you have really made me smile by commenting on my blog when I thought nobody was paying attention. I won't name names right now, but I can assure you that credit will come in due time. I appreciate you VERY much!

My review of Revolutionary Road should be up by Thursday. I am hoping to receive The Heart Mender in the mail on Wednesday, which will allow me to hopefully go right from one book into the next. If the book is late in the mail, I'm planning on picking up To Kill a Mockingbird. I haven't been able to get a hold of Anna Karenina yet.

One last thing: Earlier today Stay a Little Longer caught my eye. I wasn't in a position to purchase the book today, so was rather pleased and surprised that Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews is hosting a giveaway of this very book! Join me in entering the giveaway, if you like!

Thank you again to all you great followers. I thought I would leave you with this photo I captured the other day. Not the best in the world because I'm no photographer, but I thought it was cute!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Let's Discuss.... The Lovely Bones

I read The Lovely Bones back in January, and generally speaking, I rather enjoyed the book. I found it compelling, and as far as I was concerned, the book read in a way that drew me through the novel, teasing me at every turn with new words and patterns that I found interesting and which demanded my attention.

I enjoyed the story and characters throughout the majority of the novel, and discovered that I wanted to know more and more about Susie Salmon, her family and her killer. In the long run, however, the information that I really craved, those little details that make a book memorable to the point that it lives as a piece of you long after you've finished reading it... Those details never came. In the end I sense that Ms. Sebold didn't know her characters any better than I did by the time that the novel was finished.

The book itself wasn't "bad" by any means. While there have been some intensely critical reviews of this novel on various bookish networking sites, I am inclined to disagree with the general (negative) sentiment regarding The Lovely Bones. There is a point in the novel where it begins to drag, and where even I (who gave the book four stars) felt as though I was having to force myself to read it. The ending gave the impression that the author was simply done writing, having reached the required word count and was ready to wrap the book up (I've seen this before in other first novels).

I'm interested to hear what my readers thought of The Lovely Bones. Did you read it? Do you plan to read it? What did you think of the story itself? All opinions are welcome!

I'm including a link here to a book club discussion guide if you would like to consider that, but I would like to get some discussion going of some of the various books that I've read. If you haven't read the book in question, please feel free to simply skip over it.

I've included a Mr. Linky so that you can post your reviews of The Lovely Bones here for others to view your reviews as well as mine. Let's discuss!

(Mr. Linky is after the jump to conserve space!)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review: Glenn Beck's Common Sense, by Glenn Beck

Title: Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine
Author: Glenn Beck
Pages: 174
Format: Paperback
Genre: Government/Politics
Star Rating: 5/5
Network: Goodreads | Shelfari | Librarything
Buy: Amazon

My Summary: Glenn Beck's Common Sense is a straightforward look at the policies of the American Government. Based on the original document penned by Thomas Paine, Glenn Beck offers Americans an opportunity to return to our common sense roots while illustrating the faults in the current logic being used by politicians in Washington.

My Thoughts: I am generally a fan of Glenn Beck and try to take time out every day to watch his program on Fox News. I agree with his conservative viewpoints and his assertions. Regardless, this book wasn't quite what I expected from him.

In Glenn Beck's Common Sense, Beck doesn't attack one political party or the other: instead, he makes a case against the out-of-control spending currently going on in Washington. Although he is a libertarian, Glenn Beck evenhandedly attacks both political parties, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama. 

While I don't agree with everything that he said in this book (for example, a three party system would likely fail in the United States), I believe that he has done well to bring common sense back to the masses, if they are willing to read his book with an open mind.

Every American should read this book, including the second half, which is the original writing by Thomas Paine.

Just Had to Throw Out Five Books

My husband has spent today reorganizing our book shelves. This hasn't been done in far too long, and the four shelves that we use for books have been straining to hold them all up. This, of course, doesn't include my TBR and recently read shelves, or the small shelf that I keep with a few devotionals. It also doesn't include my husband's shelf of books on writing well. Or the books in my dresser or on the nightstand. We are probably going to find the need to purchase a fifth six foot high book shelf to house what is left over, and that will only work for as long as we cease to purchase more books.

The problem with this process is the discovery of damaged books. Books that our little one has gotten her hands on, or worse, the books that our cats have gotten into.

I remember years ago when a dog chewed up the book I was reading. I remember it so well that I can tell you that it was an old copy of James Herbert's The Fog. I cried. I wanted to find another home for that dog, immediately. Books are a BIG DEAL in my life, and damage to them makes me suffer in a very basic and very humiliating way.

These five books were damaged some time before our cats were neutered last year. I'm ashamed to say that it's been that long since I've gotten them out, but they are the consequence of unneutered male cats marking their territory. They are the collateral damage.

Fortunately four out of the five were copies of romance novels I had purchased second hand and had already read more than once (yes! I don't do this often, but in this case these books have been read to death). They weren't on their way out, but I probably wasn't going to read them again. They would, however, have been great books for a swap.

I'm furious, of course. Any time that I have to do something with books other than sell them or swap them hurts my heart and I really feel as though a little piece of my soul dies. I know that things happen -- damage happens. My husband is a collector of vintage books and he lost many in hurricane Fran. I didn't even know him at the time and the very thought makes me weep.

My heart hurts in many ways I will probably buy more copies, and read again. I will probably do the author the benefit of purchasing them brand new, if I can convince my husband that it is necessary for me to do so.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My First Blog Hop! April 23-29th 2010

This is my first blog hop! I have no question that it's going to take me longer than just today to get through everybody who has participated this week, since I have a toddler and of course I have some reading to accomplish (I hope to publish my next review -- Glenn Beck's Common Sense tomorrow). I will get through everybody this week though! I swear! :D

It might help if I told you where to go to join in the fun! Click on the image above or go over to Crazy for Books to find out how to join!

Book Beginnings Friday: Revolutionary Road

"The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking out over the footlights of an empty auditorium." 

Page 1, Sentence 1 of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. 

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

Title: Wild at Heart
Author: John Eldredge
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Christian Living
Star Rating: 4/5

My Summary: Wild at Heart is a book about finding the authentic heart of a man. It is about the spiritual wound that all men suffer and which must be healed.

Wild at Heart gives men the tools which are necessary in order to begin searching for their own hearts, but it is written in a way that is inviting to the women as well (if not more so).

My Thoughts:  I liked this book a lot. Not only did Eldredge illustrate God in a way that was new and enlightening for me, but I felt as though this book showed me how to pray for my husband in a way that was more meaningful than simply paying lip service to our marriage. Whether this was Eldredge's intention or not, I am not sure.

I did, however, have some misgivings. Eldredge consistently uses feats of daring or the "wilderness" as a means of defining the wildness of a man, and yet focuses perhaps too little on the man who's dream was to become a musician, or another who dreamed of becoming a doctor. The man who finds a cure for cancer will not have lived any less adventure than the man who brings down the biggest buck. My concern here is that some men (and women) will be discouraged by the feeling that manhood is defined by a certain kind of wildness.

All in all this is an excellent book, and I recommend it for everyone, male and female alike. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from John and Stasi Eldredge!

I received my copy of Wild at Heart free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I have not been paid to give a glowing review of this book. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Revolutionary Road

From Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, page 33:

"'I said yes. All right, Frank! Could you please just stop talking now, before you drive me crazy?'"

(Sorry, I know that was three sentences, but part of the meaning is lost with only two of them!)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Poll: Do you prefer longer or shorter book reviews? Why?

I just posted a new poll on the right-hand sidebar, but I wanted to expand on the question so that I could link to here for comments.

I would like to know whether or not you, as a blog reader, prefer to read very short, medium-length, or in-depth book reviews. I ask in particular because book reviews are drastically different from product reviews (which are often best when they have serious depth).

I know that I tend to write what I consider medium-length book reviews. There are enough words to snag Google spiders, but not so much depth that I'm spoiling the books for other readers. After all, people aren't likely to read a spoiled book and then neither the author, the publisher nor I benefit at all from my having reviewed the book.

Book Sneeze is asking me to submit short, 200 word reviews of the books that I receive from them. This is below the word count threshold for Google as I understand it, and, which is more, I'm not sure that I can review a book in 100 words (since they want 100 words to go to a synopsis of the book).

What do you think? What do you prefer to read? Is a short review enough to convince you to purchase a book, or do you prefer a more in depth review?


It Came Today!

About a week ago I joined Book Sneeze and requested a copy of Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. While the book is written for men, in Eldredge's words to give them "permission" (to me men) I thought that it would be an interesting read, since I've always been fascinated by how men see themselves as part of YHWH's overall plan. This is a subject that really gets me excited, and I'm really looking forward to plunging into this book.

I joined Book Sneeze so that I would be able to request books, which would be sent to me free of charge in exchange for a review on this site and on other sites that I frequent (such as Shelfari and Goodreads). I am, as the title of this blog might suggest, a serious lover of books, and I tend to read anything I can get my hands on (including cereal boxes and the like). This is a very exciting opportunity because it puts a large number of books at my disposal -- for free!

I cracked Wild at Heart open today. I'd already read the introduction in PDF format, and that had me anxious to read the rest of it. Now, having read half of the first chapter, I must say that Eldredge is an incredible writer, and I am not only interested in reading the rest of Wild at Heart but am very eager to get into Captivating which I got my hands on today (and will also be reviewing at some point in the future).

I hope that I will have my review up within the next several days. Very eager to see how this book turns out!

Thanks Book Sneeze!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, is the book that caused me to abandon my commitment to read 52 books in 2010. I've been reading it since February, and only just finished reading the novel tonight, April 18th, 2010.

Wicked is the story of the Wizard of Oz, as told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Like the original novel by Frank L. Baum, Wicked is an allegory and is laced through with political story lines.

This novel allows us to see the Witch from a different perspective, and those who are accustomed to seeing her only through Dorothy's lenses may be surprised, whether pleasantly or unpleasantly, by what they discover of the villain of the classic novel.

I have to confess that at first I didn't particularly enjoy Wicked. While the story started out very strong, I found quite early on that I struggled to get through more than ten, or maybe twenty, pages at a time. I was reading and re-reading sentences in an effort to put the book into context with The Wizard of Oz (The Frank L. Baum classic) and indeed with itself (Wicked).

Maguire is wordy, and in my opinion unnecessarily so. Some pieces of plot appear to be unrelated to the rest of the story as a whole, and there were many times that I found myself flipping back and forth from one chapter to a previous chapter to find out what I "missed" only to discover that I had missed nothing and that the failure was instead on the part of the author.

Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous post, Maguire uses many words to say little, while in the mean time failing to give us an accurate accounting of how friendships have formed. For some readers, it seems that this gives the appearance of the characters being "flat." While I disagree with the "flat" sentiment, I was frustrated and found the book unmanageable until I decided upon one thing: Maguire had to have intended for his readers to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks (no! the gaping holes!) that he had left in the narrative.

Please understand that if you can't make it through the first fifty pages of this book, you aren't alone: many of us who have done so have read on at great personal risk of wasting our much-coveted reading time. Failure to enjoy Wicked has nothing to do with your intelligence or your experience as a reader: it comes down to personal taste in books. Some of us have an ability to push through a book to the end and others prefer to move on to juicier reads. There were times, in this case, when I wished that I was the latter type of person.

Personally, I recommend this book. I say that in spite of the fact that I would once have rated this book a single star and labeled it "abandoned." I say that because the three stars I am giving this novel are the average of the one star it started at and the five stars where it concluded.

If you can finish this book in spite of the ramblings and the allusions to pedophilia, I believe that you will agree with me. I finished glad that I had taken the time to read the book, with speculation about whether or not I will make the effort to read Son of a Witch, book 2 of The Wicked Years.

Thank you to everyone who recommended that I see it through. I'm glad I did!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Committed to Finishing

I have committed myself now to finishing Wicked, in part because I believe that Gregory Maguire used literary devices in his book that I simply didn't understand before, and in part because the story has actually managed to capture my interest. Something is happening, the story is moving, and all in all I feel better being a part of it all.

The problem is that this is one of those books that you can't "speed read." You really do need to take your time and read through the novel slowly enough that you catch everything that the author is trying to tell you, because some bits and pieces from early in the book are becoming important now, a little bit more than halfway through the novel.

The problem that is continually leaving me frustrated is the fact that this book is a very slow read. I can manage about 10 pages at a time before I begin to become frustrated by my overall lack of progress (and the fact that it certainly seems as though Maguire is taking a lot of time to say very little).

This is the kind of book that I have to read in small chunks, and which ultimately destroys my overall love of reading and learning, since it is easier to abandon myself to the Young Adult genre (which is fine, I might add) than to continue to explore literature.

I'd be lying if I said that understanding Wicked is making me love the book: I don't love it, and I an honestly say that as much as it is probably a 4/5 star book, it just isn't for me. This makes me incredibly sad.

I'm committed to finishing though, and I suppose that's what matters.

I would love to hear what other people think about Wicked.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Two Books Coming my Way!

I am very excited: I have requested two books for review which should be coming my way within the next few days (or as much as a week, given where they are shipping from). This is the first time that I've done this, giving myself the opportunity to review brand new books or recently revised books. I am really looking forward to reading both of these books, but I wanted to give an advance explanation of one of them, since I will have a limited number of words in which to review the book.

I requested Wild at Heart from The book is written by John Eldridge, who I already respect a great deal and who's mailings I receive both in e-mail and in the post. The book is written for men. Since I am a woman, I thought that I might owe some of my readers some explanation.

The first point I would like to make is that there are as of right now no reviews of this book, presumably because most of the book bloggers on the Internet are female, but it does give me the sense that this book ought to be reviewed, if for no other reason than it is available for review. I also want to do what I can to help John and Stasi, since I appreciate their ministry so very much.

The other reason that I want to read and review this book is because of the fact that God's plan for men fascinates me. I am a Christian woman, and I mostly understand His design for my life. But for the past two years I have struggled to understand what is the "real" role of a man?

I've spent most of my life being taught that Christian men are humble and quiet of spirit. That they are meek and sensitive. For this very reason I've had difficulty in connecting with my Savior Himself because I could only see him from this perspective.

I am hoping not only to be able to read Wild at Heart to learn more about the way that God designed men, but also to learn more about Him generally. I'm the type of believer who drinks it all in, and greedily, too. I am hoping to be able to get a copy of  Captivating when I am done with Wild at Heart but if not I will surely buy it and review it!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I've Gone Back to Oz -- And I Don't Regret It!

Last night I made the rather strange decision to go back and continue to read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.  If you've been following me either on Facebook or on Twitter, you probably know that I have not been particularly enjoying Gregory Maguire's book. I've spent a lot of time pouring over reviews of this book in an effort to determine what has made it so popular and so successful, as I often do when I like an unpopular book or dislike a book that seems to be a fan favorite. The negative reviews of this book have helped me to know that I'm not alone, while the positive reviews made me feel a bit stupid.  I felt very confident when I put down Wicked and chose to read another book instead. 

Now here's the problem: I don't like to feel stupid. I am fairly certain that this is the purpose of writing a review that is designed to make the dissenting reader feel sub-standard -- If the reader is aggravated and frustrated enough, he or she will be much more likely to reconsider their position on the book in question. For this reason, I couldn't get Wicked out of my mind.
Last night I picked Wicked up again and began to read. I found myself initially surprised that I was enjoying the reading (however slow it was). Nothing about the writing or the sense of story had changed (meaning that something about me had changed). Somehow I was beginning to see the book in a different light.

This isn't a book review, since I'm not finished with the book, and I don't even consider it a mini-review, but I do have some things to say about Gregory Maguire's writing that had escaped me (and therefore probably others) in the past.
The first thing is that for a long time I've noticed that there was something missing in the story line. It was uncomfortable the way that friendships felt like they were developing over night and far more quickly than is realistic in the real world. The story jumped from one plot point to another without the connective tissue that really holds a story together, and I found the book difficult to follow for this reason.

When a meeting between two characters occurs several years following their last encounter, I found it uncomfortable that they seemed so familiar, when a relationship between the characters had never previously been established. 
Then, suddenly, it dawned on me. I got it, like a light bulb going off in my head!

Gregory Maguire writes is story as though we are school children in our early days of learning to love reading. He is writing his story as though we still have the beautiful and often forgiving imagination of a child, before grown-ups tell us that magic isn't possible. He is trusting the reader to fill in the gaps, to give the character personality that he doesn't write into the story, and to use their imaginations to see what happened when characters were apart from one another.

With this in mind, I find that I like Elphaba/Elphie/Fae, in large part because I am able to make her what I want her to be. If I want her to be the evil, wicked witch, I can do that. If I want to be sympathetic toward her plight, I can do that, too. I can make her cause my own or I can fight against her at every step because Maguire doesn't tell me which way I'm supposed to go.

I sense that in the end I am going to wind up enjoying this book for what it is worth, now that I have accepted that rather than being either "excellent" or "terrible" this book is merely "different."

Book Review: Created to Be His Help Meet, by Debi Pearl

I was quite surprised to find that I really rather enjoyed Debi Pearl's message on marriage. From the easy-to-read format of this book (including a mini study guide) to the fact that she took the time to explain concepts which had previously been foreign to me, I found that Created to be His Help Meet was a blessing to me.

I have been with my husband for six years (we've only been married a portion of that) and have been a Christian for two years as of the time of writing. For years my husband has been putting books about a woman's role in Christian marriage into my hands, and for many years I rejected these books because they made ME feel rejected. At the time I was still entirely of the world as a pagan.

When I first became a Christian I was introduced to a book called The Politically Incorrect Wife (by Nancy Cobb and Connie Grigsby). These two authors wrote so kindly about their own journeys as wives that it finally began to sink in that many of the areas in my relationship that were failing were failing because of things that were in my power and control to change. For two years it has been the first book that I put forward when I want to share a book about marriage with female friends of mine.

The first book that has always been put forward to me has been EITHER The Excellent Wife OR Created to be His Help Meet.

Created to be His Help Meet is a book that people talk about, because they either firmly agree with the stance that Mrs. Pearl takes in her book (to the point of adopting her point of view and stern demeanor themselves) or they feel as though she goes completely off the deep end.

Debi Pearl is an interesting person, and she presents her case in a way that isn't always palatable. She's very hard in her writing, and appears to take the position that every problem in a marriage is the responsibility of the woman.

What I love about Mrs. Pearl's book is that she makes Scripture practical. Instead of simply throwing "respect your husband" at us, she tells us what it means to respect and reverence your husband. Instead of making vague references to Titus 2, she outlines what it means to follow (and to represent) Titus 2 as a woman.

This is a book for women, and is written in a way that is meant to speak to a woman and not to a man. There are plenty of books on the shelves that tell husbands how to treat their wives, and which put the same amount of responsibility on the husband that Debi Pearl puts on the wife.

While many reviewers of this book look negatively on Debi Pearl because she places so much emphasis on a woman and her behavior, this is not the area where I find fault with the writing.

For me, the problems arise with the unrealistic "anecdotes" which are peppered throughout the book. At first I accepted them rather blindly, reading them and enjoying them as personal experiences that another woman has had with Yah in her marriage. The problem is that these stories are entirely unrealistic, such as the story of the woman who's husband came after her with a butcher knife. Afterward she came to Debi to tell her that she was plotting her husband's murder, and instead of encouraging this young woman to go to the police, Debi advised her to be sweet to her husband.

Within an unrealistic period of time, the husband had become a Christian and was going to church with his wife. This simply isn't realistic and it is discouraging to me to read such obviously fictional stories in the midst of what might otherwise be a very helpful book.

I also feel very strongly that Mr. and Mrs. Pearl need to leave talk of abusive husbands to those who have a more balanced view of this situation. Too many reviewers have gone into detail about how wrong the Pearls are on this subject, and I don't feel that I need to repeat what has been said time and time again except to say that the reviewers who have touched on this subject are very much correct in their assertions.

On one final note, as a head covering Christian, I find the portion of the book where Debi touches on this subject to be sadly misleading. While she tells women that they should only cover their heads if their husbands mandate it (her point about head covering being cultural is common and understandable), I find it disturbing that she tells women that they should not cover if their husbands prefer them not to do so.

This is especially true because in the same chapter (I believe), Mr. Pearl goes on to say that a woman should disobey her husband if he tells her to disobey scripture. Therefore, if my husband tells me to remove my veil, he is instructing me to disobey the scriptures and I should refuse to remove the veil.

The book is full of such contradictions, but this one hit me the hardest because it has been an area of serious discussion between my husband and me.

In short, this book can be a major blessing to women who are looking to improve their marriages, but it is important to read the book with a clear head and an eye toward Scripture. Back up everything that you read in this book and don't take Debi and Michael's word for it! If a passage is quoted, look it up in the KJV Bible to confirm.

And, as with anything, handle with prayer.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Integrity in Book Reviewing

I have been thinking a lot lately about the integrity of book reviewers. I spend entirely too much time exploring book reviews on sites such as Shelfari, Goodreads and Amazon. I enjoy reading reviews because they can often help me to decide whether or not I want to spend my money on a book that has been recommended to me or which I've had my eye on for a while. I've learned a lot of lessons about impulse buys lately!

The problem is that I often go to the reviews when I'm finished with a book, too, just so that I can see what other readers are saying. This is especially true when I find that I've just finished reading (or had to put down) a book that I really did not enjoy. Those very rare-for-me 1 and 2 star books give me pause for thought, especially considering that I try to find something good about everything that I read, and prefer to give a 3 or 4 star review (5 stars are only for the very best of books, the ones that go onto my "favorites" shelf. I am a harsh critic, but I do my best to explain why I liked or didn't like a book.

And even when I'm thinking it, I never imply that "if you're intelligent, you will like this book" or "smart people won't have anything to do with this one!" because I know that taste in books differs from one person to another. What one person can tolerate and stomach I may find repulsive, and what I find excellent may not appeal to another person.
Recently I picked up a book that I simply couldn't finish. It was a book that I felt was a mixture of poor writing and disgusting plot lines. I didn't care at all for the characters, but I can handle that: The lack of plot made me feel anxious and uncomfortable: even distrustful of the author. I had to put this book down.

A young Shelfari user reviewed this book, writing that "experienced readers" (what is that, anyway?) would enjoy this book and that inexperienced readers most likely would not. The implication here is that if you don't enjoy the book, you are an "inexperienced reader."

Now I'm not entirely sure what an "experienced reader" (or an "inexperienced reader" for that matter) is, but the feeling that I get from this review and similar reviews is that if you don't enjoy the book, you are of sub-standard intelligence.

Now please allow me to stress that this reviewer was very young (too young, in my opinion, to read the book in question) and probably a bit less experienced in writing honest reviews than someone who has been reading for 25 or more years. At the same time I felt a strange sense of hurt loss when I read the review, thinking to myself "If I don't like this, does that mean I'm of below-average intelligence?" 

I've run into this on several occasions, not just on Shelfari but also on sites such as Amazon, where reviews are also allowed. Written on the Body is a wildly popular book (though I will never quite understand its popularity!) and in some cases negative reviews have comments where the comment authors have name-called and questioned the intelligence of people who didn't enjoy the book.

I can tell you point blank that my reasons for not enjoying Written on the Body were entirely political and religious, just as the reason that many people enjoy it are probably political and either religious or entirely secular, depending on the viewpoint. I am a straight, conservative, Christian. Gay, liberal, non-Christian/Muslim/Jewish folks will probably love the book. It is just far too feminist for my taste, and I am not that kind of woman.

In short, my opinions have nothing to do with intelligence, or who is right and who is wrong: my opinions are based almost entirely on my personal set of values and on my personality. I am not any better than people who love this book any more than I am better than the people who hate either of my two favorite books (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, by Peter Hedges, and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield). 

We're allowed to have different viewpoints on books: I wish sincerely that people would use their heads when posting reviews: they don't do their favorite authors any favors by insulting the folks who didn't like the book. This only serves to start flame wars!

So let's be honest, shall we? Let's remember that our own reviews are as subjective as the reviews written by the folks of a differing opinion, and write our reviews as being subjective. It does nobody any good to insult one another.

Finished with the Transfer

I've managed to get all of my "old" book reviews rewritten and moved over to the new blog, so I'm ready to roll! Probably next up on my schedule is going to be Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, though I may yet finish Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Watch for it!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body, by Jeanette WintersonWritten on the Body isn't the sort of book I would normally read. As a Christian I don't read a lot of explicit fiction (though I do occasionally read a romance novel or two!) and I try to avoid books that have a "gimmick," particularly if the "gimmick" doesn't appeal to me. This book fits into the "explicit" and "gimmicky" category.

The narrator of Written on the Body is genderless (though most readers are aware of an underlying femininity to the character). My understanding is that this is meant to make the reader think about the way that we define gender roles. The problem for me was that the narrator didn't come across to me as being "of ambiguous gender" but as being "androgynous" (or not having an assigned gender at all).

I like gender roles. In fact, I have written off and on about the importance of gender roles in society and in our relationships with one another. I strive constantly to achieve deeper femininity and am the antithesis of a feminist.

Where I try to be soft and curvy, this book is all angles and skinny elbows, jutting against everything that I believe in and stand for. From the early pages of this short book when the narrator and one of his/her girlfriends blow up a public toilet as an act of militant feminism; to the point when the narrator begins to describe The Lover's body, including the internal organs and absolutely horrifying odors from the genital region, this book disgusted me.

There isn't much of a story here, only the obsessive love that the narrator shows to his/her married Lover, Louise, followed by the consequences of that love. It was difficult to follow and the language was overly flowery and prosaic. The poetry was unnecessary and detracted from the story as though it was meant to be a replacement for an actual story line.

I tried hard to enjoy this book, since it was recommended to me by my best friend. Initially I gave it two stars in an effort to give some credit to both Winterson and the friend who recommended the book, but in the end the truth is that I couldn't read the book straight through and put it down for several months before finally finishing it.

I am in the deep minority in my distaste of this book, but it is also not the kind of book that I would have voluntarily picked up on my own. I can sympathize with the book club members who also did not enjoy this book, and I wonder if some of the difference is in the liberal vs. conservative or secular vs. Christian.

Written on the Body is widely believed to be Winterson's best: a triumph. If this is the best of her books, I won't be reading another one of them in the future.

You can get your copy of Written on the Body on Amazon.

Book Review: What's Eating Gilbert Grape, by Peter Hedges

What's Eating Gilbert Grape, by Peter Hedges
Warning: What's Eating Gilbert Grape is on my favorites list. My review may be considered slightly skewed by my love for this book. Consider yourself warned.

I read What's Eating Gilbert Grape, by Peter Hedges, when I was fifteen years old and the movie had recently been released. Because I'm just that kind of person, I wanted to read the book first and then see what the movie was like. Being a huge fan of both Johnny Depp and Leonardo Dicaprio, I knew that I had to see the movie (and would ultimately be disappointed by it) so the book simply had to come first.

I loved this book right from the outset. During the period of my life when I first read What's Eating Gilbert Grape I was in love with first person narrative, and Gilbert is an excellent narrator! He has a unique perspective on life and on his off-the-wall family, from his morbidly obese mother (who is caving the floor in), to portly Amy and sixteen year-old boy-crazy Ellen: and of course, who can forget retarded Arnie, who is eighteen but wasn't supposed to live past ten?

"I just wanna see my boy turn eighteen. Is that too much to ask?" Gilbert's mother repeats these words like a mantra, driving Gilbert to distraction. All he wants is to get out of his small Iowa town and move up in the world, but he stays at home, helping to hold the last parts of his family together.

This is a book about families and relationships, about the importance of loving one another and of holding onto the things that really matter. It's a realistic look at small-town life. What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a very touching and enduring book. Of all the books I've ever read, none has stayed with me the way that Peter Hedge's debut novel has.

I believe that you will love this book.

You can get your copy of What's Eating Gilbert Grape on Amazon.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape: 5 Star Reviewed and Rated

Book Review: The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice SeboldI picked up The Lovely Bones on a whim, not long before the movie was released to the theaters (and I still haven't seen it). I figured that I probably ought to review the book while the title was still a popular term on Twitter and in the search engines. Truth be told, I was hoping for a traffic boost that never came (on my old blog).

Whatever my intentions for picking up and reading this book, I am very glad that I chose to read the story of Susie Salmon, a fourteen year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered by her neighbor. The story is told from Susie's point of view as she speaks from her version of Heaven, looking down on her family as they grieve her loss.

The story of The Lovely Bones is less about Susie and more about her father and her sister, both of whom suffer greatly due to her loss and struggle to uncover the mystery of the man who killed her and hid her body where it was never found.

The Lovely Bones isn't a mystery novel: that disappointed me. Right from the beginning (the first chapter) we know who the murderer is (enough that I'm comfortable putting that information in a review!). Instead, the story is about a family's redemption following the murder of a loved one. This is a subject that most families never have to think about, and it is very touching indeed.

Two months after having first read this book, I can look back and say that while I certainly enjoyed it and can recommend it to others, it isn't a book that has stayed with me. As emotional as the reading was, I don't find myself attached to any of the characters in the book, and would classify The Lovely Bones as largely unmemorable but very much worth the read!

You can get your copy of The Lovely Bones on Amazon

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: 4 Star Reviewed and Rated

Book Review: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Atonement, by Ian McEwanAtonement, by Ian McEwan, is one of those rare books that I don't like. I have observed in recent months that the more I anticipate a book, the less I seem to enjoy it when I finally have the opportunity to read it.

The story is that of Briony Tallis, who during her childhood witnesses a brief incident between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie, the son of a servant. Her young and imaginative mind make the encounter into something dirty and disastrous, and Briony lives out the rest of her life struggling to make atonement for her accusations against her sister's lover.

I didn't particularly like Ian McEwan's Atonement at first. The book progressed (for me) very slowly and I found it difficult to pick up the threads of plot that should have been holding the overall story together. When I was finished, I swore that I would never read this book (or anything else written by McEwan) again. Three months later I realized that I was wrong.

While Atonement didn't surprise me in the way that it seems to surprise other readers, it did leave me with an aching desire to know more, to go deeper, to have a greater sympathy for Robbie and Cecilia, or even Briony. Atonement left me with an ache that wouldn't go away, and told me that I would read this book again.

Atonement is incredibly slow, and the story could be told in a few paragraphs rather than 496 pages. At times the book was overwhelmingly descriptive, even repetitive. The characters (yes, all of them!) are unlikeable and perhaps too realistic as a result.

But those characters have stayed with me for a reason, and I know that I will read (and enjoy) Atonement again.

Ian McEwan has a gift in this respect: I can't stop thinking about this book. Whenever I look up and see it on my shelf, a little pang of longing goes through me: a desire to read the book and experience it again (and perhaps again). You never know, Atonement might just wind up on my "favorites" shelf!

You can get your copy of Atonement on Amazon.

Atonement by Ian McEwan: 3 Star Reviewed and Rated

Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa GregoryThe Other Boleyn Girl is a book that has haunted me since the movie was released. Although I didn't see the film until after I had read the book (and thank goodness, too!), the book kept calling to me, mostly because I had heard the title and the concept sounded interesting -- the story of Anne Boleyn, told from the perspective of her sister.

Who doesn't know the story of Anne Boleyn, the woman who dethroned Catherine of Aragon and married King Henry VIII? It was Anne Boleyn who helped Henry to found the Church of England, and it was Anne who was the first executed wife of King Henry the VIII, put to death on charges of incest, adultery and treason.

The stories of the other Boleyns are less-told: George and Thomas, Mary and Elizabeth (Anne's Mother, not her daughter) are less well known. The Other Boleyn Girl begins to tell the story of Anne's siblings, Mary and George, and the relationships that they had with one another and with Anne.

In spite of my intense desire to read The Other Boleyn Girl, I was disturbed the idea that I believed the book would be dry. I pondered the length of the novel (nearly 700 pages) and the content (I am no a history buff by any means) and several times overlooked the book. I couldn't bring myself to spend the money on this novel.

When I ran into The Other Boleyn Girl at a used book store, however, I snatched it up eagerly and perhaps a bit greedily and read it promptly.

While Philippa Gregory takes some license with the story line regarding Mary, George and even Anne, I felt that this book was a wonderful, fast-paced and easy read. I was able to pick it up and put it down during waiting periods and still finished reading it within a week of having started the book.

I highly recommend The Other Boleyn Girl and look forward to reviewing other books in the Tudors series!

You can get your copy of The Other Boleyn Girl on Amazon

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory: 4 Star Reviewed and Rated

Book Review: The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple is the story of Kevin Roose, a student at Brown University who decides to take a semester at "Bible Boot Camp" in order to explore more deeply the "God Divide." Coming from a liberal secular background, Roose isn't sure what he's going to find at Liberty University, and he doesn't get quite what he expected in the beginning, either.

Kevin Roose was the last person to give a print interview to Rev. Jerry Falwell before his death in 2007, and he never revealed to the University president that he was not, himself, an evangelical Christian.

The Unlikely Disciple amazed me. When I first picked this book up, I was expecting a difficult-to-read book that was more analysis than it was experience. Understanding and having accepted Kevin Roose's journalistic background, I imagined that the book would be at best dry and at worst downright boring. I picked it up initially because I was interested in understanding my own past as a somewhat secular pagan in comparison to myself today, as a deeply spiritual Christian. More than anything, I was looking to find some kind of personal affirmation in Roose's book: I wanted someone to, in essence, tell me that it was okay for me to have been a Christian-basher for sixteen years of my life. I wanted to not be alone any longer.

My expectations for this book couldn't have been much further from the mark. Not only is Kevin Roose's style of writing far from journalistic, but he is entertaining and witty. In fact, The Unlikely Disciple drew me in from the first few paragraphs and kept me reading in a manner that I find is unusual with works of non-fiction. I couldn't put this book down!

The Unlikely Disciple was, for me, a chance to relax with the kind of book that can easily be devoured in the span of a few days rather than being slowly picked at bit by bit. The style of the book is very easy to read and it flows well. Although the format is something like a journal (which gives you the opportunity to really see into Roose's thoughts during his semester at Liberty University), the story is written with a great deal of skill.

I was impressed with this book. I learned a lot from it, about myself, the secular liberal I used to be, and the kind of conservative (spiritual) Christian that I want to be. This is an excellent opportunity for us to learn from one another, secular or Christian.

You can get your copy of The Unlikely Disciple on Amazon.

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose: 4 Star Reviewed and Rated

Book Review: The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett

The Hogfather, by Terry PratchettThe Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett, was the first of the Discworld novels that I read. It was this book that fused me (seemingly irreversibly) to the character of Death and his granddaughter, Susan. The Hogfather made me fall head-over-heels in love with the Discworld and with Terry Pratchett's always humorous and sometimes poignant characters.

I'm far from having read all of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, but I have read several of his books. Re-reading The Hogfather this past Christmas (2009) made it very clear to me that beginning with this book was a mistake: I missed a great deal of the humor and "tone" of the Discworld novels. That being said, it is also one of my favorites among Pratchett's Discworld series. So much so, in fact, that I try to read it every November/December!

The Hogfather impressed me largely because at the time that I first read this book, I was a lover of horror fiction (and only horror fiction). As a child I devoured Stephen King novels (and had them confiscated by well-meaning teachers) and for this reason I developed a deep and abiding passion for anything that genuinely scared me.

In several places The Hogfather literally made me shiver. The book is laced throughout with philosophical truths that make the reader want to look more deeply into the history of religious culture throughout the world (but particularly in Europe).

The Hogfather explores several different and varied concepts of belief and the way that belief functions. The book is philosophical, often (very) frightening, and as always with Pratchett, incredibly entertaining.

In this book you will be reintroduced to such characters as Susan (Death's Granddaughter), Death, and the Wizards of the Unseen University. You will get to know Teatime, a frightening member of the Assassin's Guild (with a capital A thank you very much!). You will meet the "oh god" of hangovers and the verruca gnome.

The Hogfather will take you on a journey literally to the ends of the Discworld as Susan struggles to save The Hogfather (the Discworld's version of Father Christmas) from an "untimely" end at the hands of a band of assassins. You will be enchanted, entertained, and pulled through an intellectual and philosophical obstacle course.

Discworld purists have heard (and read) all of this before. Those who are new to the Discworld will enjoy this book, but may miss some of the "inside" jokes or references to other characters.

In my opinion, The Hogfather is one of Pratchett's best!

You can get your copy of The Hogfather on Amazon.

The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchet: 4 Star Reviewed and Rated