Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rene Denfeld: "The Enchanted"

Rene Denfeld
   This mother of three young children, lives in Portland, Oregon. She is a death penalty investigator who works with prisoners facing execution.  She had only written non-fiction, but wanted to write a novel that would capture the truth of prisons.  She certainly accomplished that.
   Actually, I was 'enchanted' by the cover of this book.  I am totally fascinated by covers and on a recent trip to Indigo, this book jumped out at me.  Also, it was labelled "Indigo Spotlight: an outstanding new read".   I knew it was a book about prison life, but two things surprised me.  The writing is spectacular!  I was carried away by the lyrical quality of her writing.  That was definitely 'enchanting'.  The second surprise was the brutal honesty about prison life.  So the juxtaposition of that beauty on the horrific facts, made it a rare novel. 
  The story is told by one of the prisoners, but 'the lady' is a main character.  She is not named but has the same job as the author.
"The lady hasn't lost it yet- the sound of freedom.  When she laughs, you can hear the wind in the trees and the splash of water hitting pavement.  You can sense the gentle caress of rain on your face and how laughter sounds in the open air, all the things those of us in this dungeon can never feel."
   Beautiful writing: "The library became my sanctuary.  I loved the ways the precious stories took shape but always had room to be read again.  After a time it seemed that the world inside the books became my world".
  "My soul left me when I was six.  It flew away past a flapping curtain over a window.  I ran after it, but it never came back.  It left me alone on wet stinking mattresses.  It left me alone in the choking dark.  It took my tongue, my heart, and my mind."

I think I can compare it to "All Quiet on the Western Front". An honest look at the grim realities of life.

Monday, 24 August 2015

"The Headmaster's Wife" by Thomas Christopher Greene

   This book reminded me of "The Life of Pi".  There are two stories. Which one do you believe?
   The novel is in three sections.  The first section told about a headmaster who is found naked in the park.  He tells police about his obsession with a young female student, "Betsy".  Shades of "Lolita". Creepy!
   In the second section, "Betsy" is his wife and it tells of their life together.  Quite a different story.
   The "Amazon" review had this to say:
"Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family.  Beautifully written and compulsively readable, The Headmaster's Wife stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief".

  I would love to be able to write like that, but honestly, I think I read a different book!  I did not see a 'love story' so I don't understand the 'elegy to the power of love'.
  The novel does deal with grief, but love?
Actually, sex, yes.
  And that creeped me out, because the author said that he got the ideas for this book while he was spending hours at the bedside of a sick baby that did not survive.
  Also, he was a headmaster.
  I have read that this is a 'literary thriller' or a 'psychological novel'.
  Many people loved this book.  I thought it was about madness and despair coming from grief, and I could have done without the 'lasciviousness'.  

Friday, 21 August 2015

Anita Shreve

I was introduced to Anita Shreve when Oprah chose her novel "The Pilot's Wife" for her book club back in 2001.

"The Pilot's Wife" was a fine novel.  I read it in a day.  Simple story, simple sentences about infidelity and the question, "Do you ever really know anyone?"

I followed that novel with "The Last Time They Met".  Didn't really enjoy it much.  The theme is reuniting with a lost love.

"Where or When" is another book about reuniting with a lost love and infidelity.  Not really satisfying.
And now "Light on Snow".  I read the first three books in 2001 and was given this book recently in a pile of give-aways.  Figured that I would try it out.  Knew it would be a quick read.  Was reminded that her books are not really satisfying to me. This book had the possibility of being better.  A man who had lost his wife and baby daughter in a car accident is thrown into contact with a woman whose boyfriend put their newborn baby out to die in the snow.  Yes, rather far-fetched but the contact could have been healing for the dad.  Well, I guess it was, but the characters were so weak.  And the writing left much to be desired.

Quick reads, quick blog!
Happy Reading!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Michael Crummey

Michael Crummy is a 'good old Newfoundland boy'.  He knows the countryside intimately.
Isn't this a great picture of him?
My biggest problem with Michael's books is the photography on the cover.  So I was happy to find a good picture of Michael. 

This is the cover of his new book "Sweetland".  Yuck!  But let's ignore that because the novel has much to say.
"Sweetland" is not only the name of the character, but also the name of the small island off the southern coast of Newfoundland.

   Moses Sweetland, the protagonist, is symbolic of all those who have left Newfoundland, often travelling to Ontario to find work.  But they always felt the pull to return and Moses finally did return.
He was a cod fisherman until the moratium ended that, then a lighthouse keeper until lighthouses were automated.
   Now, Moses is almost 70, and the government is trying to relocate the residents of this remote island.  They will pay them to move so that the government  will no longer have to provide essential services.
   However, the program only takes effect if everyone in the community agrees and Moses is the hold-out.  Threats are not working because Moses is so connected to the land.  Quote:  "It was as if he'd long ago been measured and made to the island's exact specifications."
  I thought this novel had great meaning. I read this:
"Moses is, in many ways, the personification of traditional Newfoundland, clinging to life in the face of unstoppable, constant change."

  There are interesting characters, little plot, but marvellous description of the land.  It seems to be a love story to Newfoundland.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Toni Morrison- "God Help the Child"

Toni Morrison is "the great American novelist", as the cover of Time magazine declares.  She is much loved and has received many awards, including the Pulitzer prize, Nobel Prize, and Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She has been an English professor as well as an author.
She can certainly write.  Her characters are very beautifully detailed.
This novel is very short and easy to read.
Bride is a dark-skinned girl whose light-skinned mother was cruel to her because of her skin colour. In order to get attention from her mother, Bride lied about sexual abuse as a child.
The theme of the book seems to be that childhood trauma shapes and changes people.  
Do we still need reminders of this?
Do we still need reminders of skin colour?
I don't have a great history with Toni's books.  I read "Paradise" twice, then saw the movie, but still didn't  understand what she was saying.
"Song of Solomon" was easier to understand.  A coming-of-age story with much inner turmoil, violence and confusion.
I think it is the constant violence- especially sexual, that I find unnerving.  I would like to read about a black family without the violence and sexual exploitation. But that is the Pollyanna coming out in me.
My friend, Terri, enjoyed this book more than I did.  She thought it was 'terrific' as many other readers did also.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

"The Homesman" by Glendon Swarthout

   This book was recommended to me and sat on my 'reading pile' for awhile.  I picked it up twice and read a few pages, but then was pulled away by other books.
  Finally, I picked it up for the third time, and I was hooked!
  It is a dismal tale of the Old West and it took me three tries to adapt to 'the dismal'.
  The challenges of the long winters, amidst extreme poverty, cause some women to 'go mad'.  The travelling minister finds a way to deal with this situation.  In the spring, he searches for someone to escourt them back east.
  Mary Bee Cuddy was the character that attracted me and hooked me into the novel.  She had been a school teacher, who bought a homestead and set up on her own. A willful, strong, interesting woman.
  It is Mary Bee Cuddy who volunteers to escourt these ladies on this journey that lasted for weeks.  Mary was kind, thoughtful and loving to the pioneer women.  She had saved a reprobate, Briggs, from hanging and coerced him into accompanying this band of travellers.  This made for great adventures with an ice storm, sickness, Indians, and breakdown of the wagon.
   However, the author ruined the whole story with a twist that took all the light out of the story and returned the reader to 'dismal, depressing'.  From there, the story went quickly downhill.
  I am always disturbed when a book that has such promise, throws it away.

Review from Amazon:  "Utilizing a classic western plot of a journey across rough land under perilous conditions, a mismatched pair of protagonists who'll remind many readers of those in "The African Queen", the author tells a sturdy if by now familiar tale.  Unfortunately, once the novel goes wrong, which it does with a bizarre, alienating plot twist about three-quarters of the way through, it never recovers."
The book received 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon and many people loved it.  But I agree with this response:
"I was so disappointed about this book.  It starts focusing on a strong woman and shifts suddenly to focusing on the no-account man, while the woman goes crazy.  Why is this book popular?"

This author has written 16 Western novels- many have been made into movies.  He wrote "The Shootist" (John Wayne's last movie).  This book was made into a movie ( with Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones) that also got a good review, and I read that the movie was very close to the book.
The book won the Western Writers of America's Spur Award as well as the Western Heritage Wrangler Award.  Who is on the panel of those awards?  Do they not care that 'good' lost?  And the drunken, fowl-mouthed, claim-jumper, killer,ended up dancing on a ferry as he shot at those on shore?  And, the last reminder of the kind-hearted woman (a headboard for her grave) slipped into the water unnoticed. 

In the republished book, the authors's son writes about the research that his father did for the book. 
 But it doesn't take research to know that people who invest their time in reading a book need and deserve a little light or hope at the end!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Little Free Library

While I was travelling, I discovered these free libraries in Duluth, Minnesota.
I certainly take books with me when I travel but they are library books, so I can't donate them.  
Because I am so active in book clubs, I  spend a lot of time reading the books for the book clubs and don't have as much time to read other books.  So this isn't very helpful for me, but I really love the idea and the structure of these little houses.

       Take a book
      Leave a book
       Love a book

Monday, 3 August 2015

Go Set A Watchman

Harper Lee
   I am not showing the cover of this book because I am sad that it was published.  Harper Lee never wanted publicity for herself and said that she would never publish another novel.   
   Even though she won the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other honorary degrees, she declined to speak publicly.
   Here is a quote from Harper Lee :" I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement.  Public encouragement.  I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected".
   Well, now she is getting a ton of publicity that I imagine she would hate!
   She wrote one book that she wanted to stand alone.  And it should have continued standing alone.  It was a masterpiece and the recent publication seems to have defamed it.  I am sad for Harper Lee.

   So it is apparent that I was not ready to enjoy this book, but needed to see what the hype was about.
   I attempted to read it to my husband on a recent road trip around Lake Superior.
  One thing is clear- it is not a good readaloud!  Another thing is clear- I hated it!
   There were several times that whole paragraphs were given to sentence fragments.
  On other occasions, I stopped and said, "What is that about?"
  I will admit that, as Jean Louise was reminiscing about her childhood,I enjoyed a few of the anecdotes.

But the character of Jean Louise is arrogant, obnoxious, sanctimonious, cranky and completely unlikeable.

The circumstances around this book are suspicious.  Harper Lee has had a stroke, and is partially blind and deaf, wheelchair-bound, living in an assisted living facility.  
Her sister, who was her agent, died last year.
I think it is wrong to publish this book!