OK, here is my book report for May. Instead of dividing it into two parts like I did for April, it's here as one long post. I don't know which works better, feel free to let me know in the comments section. Another option would be to direct you to my comments on Goodreads, via a link for each title. (Who knows, maybe I'll try that next month ...)
I have marked any of the books that I have to give away with an asterisk (*) at the title. Let me know if you are interested, either by leaving a comment, or sending me an e-mail at thekittyknitterATverizonDOTcom, by the end of the day on Monday, June 8, 2009.
The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Kretser. This was a book that sounded interesting from the info on the dust jacket, and I enjoyed reading it. The story is written mainly from the viewpoint of Tom Loxley, a grown man who currently lives in
He ends up being helped by Nelly Zhang, an artist he knows and with whom he is smitten. We get to know Nelly and her artistic friends, as well as learning the story of Nelly's husband, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. Tom Loxley becomes obsessed with her story, and wants to determine whether or not she may have killed her husband.
Also playing a large role in the book is Tom's mother, Iris, who is living in the guest house of a relative as she declines from age, and what sounds to be Alzheimer’s.
I enjoyed this book, as it was different from a lot of others I have read. The descriptions of Tom Loxley's childhood in
I found these two passages from the book to be particularly striking:
(When Tom is remembering how Nelly told him about different homes in the Artists' Preserve, where she had her home and studio)
"To possess a city fully, it is necessary to have known it as a child, for children bring their private cartography to the mapping of public spaces. The chart of Tom's secret emblems was differently plotted. Oceans separated from the sites featured on it."
(And this one especially, when someone talks to him about the possibility of never finding the dog)
"'There's a limit to how much you can do ... It's not like losing a kiddie, is it? Count your blessings he's only a dog.'
Love without limits was reserved for only his species. To display great affection for an animal invariably invoked censure. Tom felt ashamed to admit to it. It was judged excessive: overflowing a limit that was couched in philosophical distinction, as the line that divided the rational, human creature from all others. Animals, deemed incapable of reason, did not deserve the same degree of love."
This story intrigued me enough that I am likely to try and read some of de Krester's other work to see if she is someone I want to follow.
The book is divided into sections, and each character has a chapter related to them within the section. Sometimes you are seeing a situation from the point of view of several of the individuals, which is interesting since they are all there at the same time, so you don't need to remember to follow-up later. (Because I am lazy about following-up ...)
I had no idea how Emerson was so much a part of creating the intellectual group that lived in
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to visit
One of my favorite passages is from the beginning, where they describe the Alcott family's arrival to
*Farewell My Queen: A Novel, by Chantal Thomas. This book was given to me by a friend. The story is told from the perspective of a woman who is the Reader to the Queen, Marie Antoinette. The story is remembered from the perspective of 1810, in
This was an interesting read, as it was told from the perspective of someone who is part of the court, but not one of the higher ranking indviduals. Marie Antoinette is presented as a woman who is one person to the public, and another - more caring - person to those who are directly in her orbit.
I found this to be an interesting book, since others I have read about this time were written from the perspective of history, automatically condemning Marie Antoinette. This time, we are given a queen who is more approachable, even if she, and the other royals, have no real understanding of the average person's existence. They are presented as people who were raised with the strong belief that they were not ordinary, and knew what was right for the population at large.
The book covers the dates of July 14 through July 16, when the last members of the court leave
"Close the gates: very well, but who would go out and give orders to that effect? It was for the King to give such comnands. Before daybreak. BAut how could he be reached? It would be best if one of us went instead. The mole catcher volunteered. It was unanimously agreed that, however great might be the chaos confronting us, a mole catched could not the bearer of a royal order."
This is what the main character is thinking. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "There was a MOLE CATCHER as part of the court?????"
The book is not necessarily high and mighty literature, but it is very readable and very interesting.
Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories, by Elizabeth Strout. This was a really interesting book, not just because of the main character, Olive Kitteridge, but because of the way it progressed. Instead of what I was expecting - a narrative novel - the book is a series of short stories, where Olive and her husband, Henry, as well as their son, Christopher, are sometimes the main characters, and other times just mentioned as part of the story.
It takes place in a town called
I liked this book for the development of the relationship the reader has with the various characters, and for its portrayal of a woman who is not always a sympathetic character, but never seems false.
*The Best of Friends, by Joanna Trollope. Here is another book I read this month that I ended up liking more at the end than I did when I started reading it. It covers the period of one summer into the fall, when two families lives changed drastically, throwing their individual and mutual universes into total chaos. In the beginning, I felt it was going to be a little too soap-opera-ish for my taste, but things improved.
The story deals with two families, who are friends primarily because the husband (Laurence) in one and the wife (Gina) in another have been best friends since they were in high school. The character driving the story is Gina and Fergus' daughter, Sophy, who is devastated and angry when her father suddenly announces that he and her mother are separating. They always seemed to be at one another's throats, but Sophy cannot believe that they are breaking up. As the story develops, the relationships of all the characters to each other change quite a bit, sometimes unexpectedly, and usually with very sad consequences.
As I said earlier, it started out like a soap opera plot, and though it still contained some of that type of story, the narrative was effective enough to make you wonder what would happen next. The characters are pretty well-drawn, and fairly complex, and the story creates as many questions as are resolved by the end.
Not great, not awful, and slightly thought-provoking.
*The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. This book surprised me, by turning out to be one that really made me think. At the beginning, I wasn't even sure that I wanted to read it!
The story takes place in rural
The intervening years have not been kind to the house or the family. Colonel Ayres is long dead, and Susan, the oldest daughter, had died as a child from diphtheria. Her mother never really recovered, though she had two more children, Caroline and Roderick. Dr. Faraday is called to look in on Roderick, who was injured - both physically and mentally as we learn - in the war. Caroline has been called home to help care for him, as their mother is elderly by this time.
The estate is physically in ruins, and barely being kept afloat. Dr. Faraday begins a friendly relationship with the Ayres family, and by turns they all begin to confide in him. However, strange things begin to happen, first to Roderick, and then eventually to everyone. Though Dr. Faraday scoffs at the idea, the family firmly believes that there is some kind of presence in the house that taunts them, and eventually, though he finds no scientific evidence to indiate they are right, the turn of events makes him wonder if such things really are possible.
The book at first seemed like it might be a little too cliche - the lower-class doctor becomes friends with the estate family, but eventually he is put in his place by them. Instead, the story takes a few twists and turns, and ultimately ends up being a suspenseful story that makes you think about what you do and don't believe, and about the relationships you have with other people, particularly your family.
It's not the best-written book I've ever read, but the author does a nice job of evoking time and place. The characters are more believable than I expected, and when I finished the book, I sat for a while and gave some thought to what I think/believe about "ghosts" and the spirit world, and how family relationships can sometimes be the one thing you always go back to, regardless of what else you have done in your life.
Overall, I think it was a good story, and I really enjoyed reading it.
*The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy: A Novel, by Elizabeth Aston. A friend gave me this book, and I figured it would be an OK read. It was, but just *barely* OK, in my opinion. The main character is Alethea Darcy Napier, one of the daughters of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She has made an unfortunate marriage, as a result of being on the rebound from a relationship where her intended married another woman. Her husband, who is much older, and named Norris Napier, won her with his admiration of her musical talents. But it turns out that he is a terrible person, wanting to control every aspect of her life, and treating her very poorly.
As the book opens, Alethea and her maid Figgins are sneaking out of the estate house dressed as men to flee to
I will admit that even though I wasn't crazy about this book, I read it to see what would happen. Overall, it was pretty predictable and the characters did/said/acted the way you would expect. I found it hard to believe that a girl/woman like Alethea would be the daughter of Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, because it just didn't seem to fit, as far as I am concerned. True, it brings into the limelight the position of women in the society of the time, and the limitations to their behavior and personal power, but that didn't work for me to move the story along.
The character of Norris Napier seemed to be simply a way to get to a story. (Besides, who the **** would marry someone with that name???) We never really get an idea of him, other than as an ogre. And the character that becomes involved with Alethea, Mr. Titus Manningtree, is so transparent, it isn't hard to guess what might happen.
I've read worse books, but this one just wasn't worth the effort in the end.
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a book I had tried to start reading when it was first published, but for whatever reason, it just didn't hold my interest. At the time I remember thinking I was the only person not sucked in to its popularity, and really couldn't figure out why other people thought it was so great. At the library a few weeks ago, I saw it, and thought I'd give it another try. I am so glad that I did! This time the story completely engaged me, and I could barely put the book down to do things like eat a and sleep.
The story of the Price family, and their missionary venture to what was then the Belgian Congo in 1959, is told from the viewpoints of the wife and daughters of Nathan Price, a Baptist missionary who is a megalomaniac. The chapters are each narrated by one of the family members - Orleanna, his wife; or, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May, the daughters who he is so disappointed in, mainly because they are not sons.
I have always thought that anyone choosing the life of a missionary must be different from the rest of us. Especially in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, when some of the places they were sent were literally terra icongita. I will also admit to being more understanding of those who were medical or educational missionaries, and somewhat suspicious of those who were religious missionaries. This is largely because I have a personal suspicion of people whose main goal in life seems to be forcing me (or anyone else) to listen to what they have to say about their God, with the implication that anyone's current belief system is wrong or misguided. So the character of Nathan, who is one of those people who is ALWAYS right, and expects everyone else to defer to him, is the type of character whose downfall I usually relish. At the end of the book, I felt that since he did not likely think he had been defeated, nothing had been learned on his part.
His wife and daughters, however, were a different story. For the most part they were products of their time and Southern upbringings, so it was not surprising that they felt that the native Congolians were lesser beings. But it was interesting to read the changes in how they felt, what they thought they could learn, and how they had changed by the end of the book.
The story put me in mind of another book, The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux. The characters of the fathers, who take their families into alien territories, and have the need to control everyone and everything, were very similar, though the father in the Theroux book was moving his family to South America to return to a simpler way of life, rather than to preach on behalf of any organized religion.
I found this book to be really interesting, but also disturbing. It always astounds me when I read a book where one person totally rules the lives of the rest of the family. When the story is set in an earlier place and time, I do at least recognize that the characters are products of society at the time. But I cannot for the life of me understand how any woman could be so under the control of her husband that she had no say in what their life was to be.
In the end, I'm glad I gave it another try. And my respect for Barbara Kingsolver's talent has only increased after reading this.
From a story of a family that traveled across the world, I came next to this story, which takes place for the most part in
Most of the characters in this book seemed very real to me. The pace of the story seemed true to the way a person thinks, and how one thought can trail off into another whole topic or experience. I thought the language was beautiful, and I also felt like I could picture John, his son, his wife, their cat, and the other people who moved the story along.
The book was spiritual, since
One of the statements that the character of John Ames makes really stuck out. He is talking about the part of a person's life when they have grown up, and he encourages his son to live his life in an attentive way, because "adulthood is so fleeting." I have never heard anyone say this. People say things like life is too short, and that childhood passes before you know it, but adulthood is never spoken of in this manner, at least that I have heard. Upon reading it, I was a little bit surprised to realize that it is completely true.
I am very glad that I read this book, and I know that parts of it will keep me thinking about it for quite a while.