Thursday, August 11, 2011

"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

290 pages

This novel spans thirty years in the life of Celie, a poor, uneducated black woman living in the American South during the early 20th century. Her story is told through letters, the earliest addressed to God and the latest addressed to her sister, Nettie, who spent most of her life in Africa. Celie has been abused her entire life, first by her father, who rapes her and allegedly murders the consequent children, and then by her husband, who considers her worthless and knocks her around. She's never felt loved, but she doesn't seem to expect it because she's accepted that that's the way her life is. Then she meets a couple of remarkable women who show her that she's a beautiful person and that it's okay to stand up for oneself. As she slowly grows into her natural self, several big surprises change her life even more.

This is one of the books that was on my Librarian Shame List because I'd gone through high school, college, and the first few years of my adult life without reading it. I wish I hadn't waited so long! The intimate writing style drew me in right away (though I would have appreciated some punctuation!) and I immediately cared deeply for Celie, Nettie, Shug, and the others. The story is paced so well and there are so many shocking surprises along the way that it was hard for me to put the book down. There's so much to think about that's addressed in this book: racism, subjugation of women, human sexuality, colonialism, violence, self-esteem, and more. It will break your heart but also inspire you and stimulate some good thought and discussion (I led a book discussion on this title and it was a perfect pick!).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Revolutionary Road

by Richard Yates
(1961 | 337 p)

To say that I did not enjoy this book would be putting it mildly. I read this as quickly as possible (a bit like pulling off a band-aid) and marked down my thoughts at the end of each reading session. My thoughts were as follows:

Day 1. Page 125 "Oh, what a pair of miserable sad sacks. This book is moving along at a swift pace, engaging and relevant. But the premise is so darn miserable. If this weren't a book discussion title I'd probably give up now to spare myself from having to share in the characters' desperation."

Day 2. Page 225 "Everyone in this book is insane, and not in a good way. Life was stifling in the 50s. I get it. But did it really turn everyone into a bunch of narcissistic neurotics?"

Day 3. Page 346 (book finished) "Well, that was depressing in a very pointless sort of way."

That basically wraps up my thoughts on this novel. As I read I kept wondering what I was missing. "What is Richard Yates trying to say here?" I'd wonder in a rare moment of magnanimity. But then April or Frank would raise the bar on self-absorption and my moment of open-minded acceptance would be gone, replaced by much grumbling and gnashing of teeth. These characters were horrible people and I honestly didn't care what happened to them. Which is for the best, really, since it all ended very badly.

Shadowmarch (Shadowmarch: 1)

by Tad Williams
(2004 | 656 p)

In the world of Shadowmarch humans and the supernatural Qar have lived in a sort of tense stalemate. Humans continue to thrive in the sunshine lands of the south while the Qar hold their own in the eternal twilight of the northern lands. These territories are fiercely protected by a the Qar's magical fence, which is known only as the Shadowline. Shadowmarch is the northernmost of the Human lands, and is the closest to the Qar. The Eddons have ruled peacefully in Southmarch for generations. Peace has existed for so long, in fact, that the story of the Qar folk has faded to superstition. But then the Shadowline begins to move and young Princess Briony Eddon's world starts to fall apart.

Another scrumptious fantasy novel from the esteemed Tad Williams. Highly recommended for fans of the epic fantasy genre.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and The Great Puppet Theater" by Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins

166 pages

No, your eyes do not deceive you: our favorite killer puppet is back in this second volume of "Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer." He's still hunting down vampires to get revenge for the death of his beloved Geppetto. His wooden nose comes in pretty handy during his quest, as all he as to do is lie to access an unlimited supply of wooden stakes. Now, in this installment, he is joined by his "brothers and sisters"--the magical puppets of the Great Puppet Theater. They, too, are thirsty for vampire blood. That's the good news. The bad news is that Master Cherry was killed and turned into a vampire. Fairy's magic is able to keep him in his right mind--but Pinocchio can't accept him in his bloodsucking state. Finally, the tension explodes and chaos ensues. In the midst of all that, Pinocchio's woman gets kidnapped by pirates. How will Pinocchio get out of this mess?

I enjoyed this second volume of "Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer" even more than the first, and that's saying something. The story takes some interesting turns and cracked me up on almost every page. I can hardly wait for the third book to come out!

"Sold" by Patricia McCormick

263 pages

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend and cuddling with her beloved mother. But then a harsh monsoon washes away her family’s crops, so Lakshmi’s stepfather says she has to leave home and take a job to support her family. He sends her with a beautiful stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Lakshmi is excited about being able to help her family as she journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House." But soon she figures out the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution. The cruel old woman who rules the brothel tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt. However, it doesn't take long for Lakshmi to discover that she's being cheated out of her meager earnings so that she can never leave. At first, Lakshmi just tries to get through each day. After being inspired by some of the women she meets in her prison, she finds her spunk again and vows to find a way to get out of the slavery she's been sold into.

Wow. This is a story that will stick with me for a long, long time. Although it's fiction, it opened my eyes to the reality that thousands of young girls (and boys) actually face every day. When I hear statistics about things like this, it horrifies me in a general way but it doesn't really hit home until it's personalized by something like this book. The story is paced well and I like the choppy format--the abruptness of the direct sentences and short chapters really fit with the story. My only complaint is that the ending is too hasty and a little too much like a fairy-tale--that's all I'll say to avoid the risk of saying too much and giving something away. Still, this is a fabulous book that I recommend to everyone. I felt incredibly heartbroken, furious, and helpless when I finished, but I'm so glad that I read it.

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers: Volume 2

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 235 pages

Dogged Yoshimune's investigation into her shogun predecessors reveals a close-kept, bloody history of greed, lies, obsession, and love as Ôoku's second volume backs up eighty years to uncover the truth of the last male shogun's death and the life-altering, nation-shaping decisions that follow.

A moving, painful read, this. Conscription, murder, rape. Beauty is like a weed, here, stubbornly refusing to be cut down or poisoned or trampled out of existence, despite the ugliness suffocating it. In the face of so much trauma, it's a miracle anything good can survive. And yet it does. I look forward to future volumes tracing the history between these lives, this time of upheaval and transition, and Yoshimune's own--and to see what she does with that knowledge.

Kiss of Death by Linda Palmer

Summary: The main character Morgan hires a private detective to find her biological parents. Also, Morgan helps her best friend Nancy, who is accused of murdering her boyfriend's ex.

My Opinion: The only thing I like about the book is that the main character is a writer in a soap opera. I was dissapointed

308 pages

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes" by Chris Crutcher

304 pages

Narrator Eric Calhoune was a social outcast during junior high, thanks to his excessive weight. Luckily, he found a kindred spirit in Sarah Byrnes, whose face and hands were hideously disfigured in a childhood accident. They bonded over their problems and became best friends. Now they are seniors in high school and Eric has considerably slimmed down through competitive swimming (though his nickname "Moby"--as in Moby Dick, the whale--stuck). However, he's still fiercely loyal to Sarah, who was his friend back when everyone else either ignored or ridiculed him. Then Sarah suddenly stops talking and is committed to a mental ward. Eric will do anything to help her, but soon he realizes that there are things from her past that are even worse than he thought, and he doesn't know how to help her deal with them--or with the situation she is currently in.

If you ask me, "fantastic" is not a strong enough word for this book. I loved the tone, the characters, the dialogue, the story itself, the pacing, everything! It has a great message (a couple of great messages, actually) but it's not at all preachy. There are a couple of parts so funny and goofy that they made the characters seem more real--almost too weird to be made up, if that makes any sense (though I know that they were made up). This story made me laugh over and over, broke my heart, and made me think. It's not often that a book does all three!

Coop: a year of poultry, pigs and parenting by Michael Perry

Wonderful book!  Michael Perry makes raising pigs to slaughter, building a chicken coop, and staying up late with a screaming child seem poetic and lovely!  Fond of short titles, this author's last book was Truck: a love story about his courtship of the wife who shows up on Coop, pregnant and eventually giving birth at home.  Perry looked at all the women surrounding his wife and decided he needed a dhoula, so he asked his friend, Mills (a guy) to help him out!   A nice read for anyone who just wants a relaxing, bucolic tale in the tradition of The Good Good Pig and James Herriott's books..with a little more edge.
Kim F