08 May 2013

April Book Report

Well I appear to be on a four-books-a-month kick.  That's OK, since especially the last few weeks, the fact that I've been able concentrate well enough to read anything is amazing.  My boss at work, who I and the others in our department like both professionally and personally, gave two weeks' notice that she was leaving.  We all knew for a while that she was feeling frustrated with how she was being treated by the administration, but until she told us she had resigned, she gave no indication that she was thinking of leaving so quickly.  And since she had been serving as Interim Director and her original job, we now have lost two positions instead of only one.  Needless to say, we were all upset and worried, since she was the person who was more or less guarding our jobs as well.  So - the fact that I read anything and comprehended it is a relief and somewhat of a surprise.

But life goes on, and you need to keep moving forward.  And I read some interesting things last month, so here they are, along with my thoughts about them.

Truth and Beauty, by  Ann Patchett.  I read Lucy Grealy's autobiography last fall, and wanted to read this because it was the story of Lucy Grealy and Ann Patchett's friendship.  I wondered how Lucy was seen by those outside of her family.

Lucy and Ann both attended Sarah Lawrence College, where Ann knew who Lucy was, but was never sure that Lucy knew who she was.  Then, when they are both admitted to the Iowa Writers Workshop, Lucy asks her to find an apartment when she goes out to find her own place to live.  Ann is only able to find an apartment in a house, not a magnificent place, but a place they can afford if they become roommates.  On their first meeting there, Lucy reacts as if Ann is her best friend in the universe, and for the rest of Lucy's life, they are the closest of friends.  

I didn't like this book as much as I expected to, mostly because I didn't really end up liking Lucy that much.  Which is not to deny her situation, and her grit in pushing through and trying to do what she wanted to do in her life.  But rather than come across to me as a likable person, she seemed extremely manipulative.  Having said that, a person can only succeed at being manipulative if those being manipulative let it happen, and Ann definitely did.  Ann admits that Lucy was difficult, self-centered, and as frustrating as she was all the things that made Ann love her, but I kept wishing that it was not such a one-sided relationship.  Ann seemed to love Lucy as a friend, but also kind of worship her.  I realize that saying this about a person like Lucy Grealy is like saying that Jesus was probably an ugly baby, but I don't think I would have been able to be friends with her.

I think Lucy and Ann were lucky to have each other, but I also think they were in a lot of ways each other's worse enemy.  I have read some articles saying that Lucy's surviving family members were upset with this book, and I can understand that, as Lucy comes across as a needy, often whiny, even pushy person who is not happy unless the world is paying attention to her.  And in her autobiography, she makes it clear that by being the most special case, that's when she is happiest.  But of course each party is viewing Lucy from their own standpoint.  It is odd that in this book, there is never mention of Lucy's siblings having any contact with her, or she with them.  Ann's family more or less becomes her family.  Which makes a certain sense, since it's Ann's version of things.

Like everything in the world, there are probably 20 versions of Lucy's story, depending who is telling it.  It is clear that she was a very smart, constantly inquisitive person, with a lot of talent in her writing.  And it is clear that Ann Patchett's life as an adult was framed by her friendship with Lucy Grealy.  

I liked this book well enough to want to read the whole thing, but I don't think it's anything I'll ever consider reading again.

Room, by Emma Donoghue.  I finished this book a few weeks ago, but needed time to think about it before writing anything.  During a week when the Senate voted down any type of gun control, bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, and a fertilizer plant blew up in Texas, reading this book showed that horrific stories are, in the end, very personal.  And how someone deals with such events is personal as well.

When the book opens, Jack and his Ma are celebrating his fifth birthday.  It appears that they live a very simple life, and you briefly assume it's because they are impoverished.  But as you keep reading, you realize that they are living in an 11-foot square room with soundproof walls, a door that opens only from the outside, and only a skylight -  the "Room" of the title.  Jack is the narrator of the story, and he appears to be a very happy little boy.  His mother, though, has been living in Room for seven year, having been kidnapped at the age of nineteen.  Jack is of course, a child of rape, but he only knows that his Ma and Room are his world.  They subsist on the barest of essentials, provided by a man that Jack calls "Old Nick," who is his mother's kidnapper.  Jack knows that they depend on him for their food, heat, etc., but he has no idea why.  

At one point, Ma devises a plan that might help them to escape, but it fails, and because Old Nick is angry, he turns off all of their power for two days.  Then Ma comes up with another plan that is extremely risky, and relies on Jack.  He is hesitant, because he is frightened, he doesn't want to be away from Ma (they've never been apart in his life), and he doesn't understand why she wants to leave Room.

I really don't want to say much more, because I think this book is well worth reading.  The way that Ma has been able to carve a "normal" life for Jack is a testament to how much she loves him, because he has no idea that they are prisoners.  She has spent the last seven years of her life away from the rest of the world, continually being molested by Old Nick, and yet Jack feels safe, happy, secure, and loved.  He has no idea that the world outside exists, or that it is so incredibly vast, with people, places, and things to see and experience - he doesn't even realize that he has an extended family.  

I liked this book, even if it felt claustrophobic a lot of the time.  But if Ma and Jack could live in Room for all of those years, we can certainly read about it for a week.

Too Big to Miss, by Sue Ann  Jaffarian.  This series is new to me, but after reading two pretty intense books, I was ready for something else!  Odelia Gray is a paralegal in southern California, who is also a member of a local group that works to end discrimination against heavy/overweight people.  She has a life she enjoys, friends, and a job that she likes, in spite of the fact that it turns out that her boss is retiring, and one of the attorneys she doesn't like is going to be her new boss.

Odelia's world is rocked when her friend Sophie London is found dead from a gunshot wound, in what appears to be a suicide.  Odelia cannot fathom Sophie killing herself, as she was the driving force in the support group, Reality Check, and was instrumental in helping women of all ages deal with their size and the issues around it.  But as it turns out, Odelia learns that Sophie shot herself on camera, on the her own porn website!  Odelia cannot believe that Sophie had a porn website, any more than she can believe that she shot herself because she was depressed or unhappy.  Named the executor of Sophie's estate, she learns more and more of her late friend's secrets, and also becomes more and more convinced that Sophie was murdered.  

This was an enjoyable read, with a set of characters that dealt with issues not usually part of the main storylines in books, particularly mysteries.  I enjoyed learning about Odelia, and though it became a little bit confusing to keep track of everyone once she started investigating her friend's death, there were some interesting twists and turns on the way to the end of the story.

The Cruelest Month, by Louise Penny.  Oh how I wish I lived in Three Pines!  Though people are always being murdered there ...

This is another story of the small Quebec community of Three Pines, nestled in its own lovely spot, a couple of hours away from Montreal.  The townspeople are familiar, and you can picture them and the village in your mind.  This book begins on Good Friday, when - as a lark - a group of people gather for a seance, which is not successful at all.  Someone suggests that they try again, but in another location - the Hadley House, which is currently empty but has a notorious reputation as a place where others have died, and terrible things have happened.  A person visiting the town for relaxation, who is also a practicing Wiccan, is talked into conducting both seances.  

During the second attempt, the participants are nervous and scared to begin with, and then it turns out that someone at the table drops dead!

Enter Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the quiet and approachable disposition and sharp mind, who is sent to investigate once it's determined that the cause of death was poisoning.  Gamache knows these people, knows the Hadley House, and he and his team dig in to the case.

At the same time, a Montreal tabloid newspaper is publishing derogatory stories about Gamache and his family.  The attacks escalate, and Gamache finds himself trying to solve and murder, and find out who is giving information to the paper and why.  It's clear that it stems from the "Arnot case" which involved another office in the Surete (police force).  The reader learns that members of Gamace's team may be directly involved ... or are they?

I enjoyed this book as much as I have enjoyed all the others in the Armand Gamache series.  Louise Penny has created a fascinating detective and a bucolic location for him to carry out his investigations.  The mysteries are as cerebral as they are mysterious, and Gamache is such a great character.  

I can't wait to read the next one!


I'm afraid that I gave away the only hard copy of these books that I had, to a co-worker who asked if she could read it when I was finished.  The other three were books I read on my Nook, so unless I give you that, I can't share them, and I really enjoy my Nook, so you are out of luck!

I do have to say that I am feeling somewhat more haunted by Room, since the news story this week about the three young women held captive for 10 years, one giving birth, by the lowlife in Cleveland.  I can only hope they recover as well as the characters in the book seemed to be on their way to doing.


Mereknits said...

Try reading The Promise Of Stardust, you will love it.

Lorraine said...

Bridget= Interesting, my sister is a huge Louise Penny fan, so it's good that you agree with her recommendation.

Carrie#K said...

I love Louise Penny, I want to live in Three Pines too. The Lucy Grealy book sounds kind of obnoxious but then again, I haven't read any Ann Patchett although Bel Canto has been on my shelves for AGES.

Room sounds scary! I hate to think something like that exists even in the imagination, it's so hard to realize it happens so much in real life. Sad.

You read quite a bit! Crossing fingers for you on the job front.

kathy b said...

Hang in there with the job changes. YOU never know if it will bring something good to yoU!!
and be good to you today

Lorette said...

I just started the first Gamache story, and am emjoying her writing. You might enjoy the Brunetti mysteries, by Donna Leon. It's another smart detective series, set in Venice.