Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Publisher:  Crown
Published:   June 5, 2012
ISBN:  978-0297859383
Pages:  432
Rating:  4  out of 5

Book Summary:   Marriage can be a real killer.  

One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work "draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction." Gone Girl's toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.  (I purposely didn’t include the rest of the summary and I explain why in my review. If you’d like to read the rest, look up Gone Girl on Goodreads or visit Gillian Flynn’s website)

My Thoughts:   When Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott meet they’re instantly attracted to each other and intrigued by one another.  Nick’s dazzled by Amy’s beauty and delighted with her personality.  Amy thought Nick was adorable.  When Nick was around Amy, he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.  Nick doted on her which she enjoyed.  Amy wasn’t one of those women who insisted her social life was Nick’s social life.  Nick went out with his friends and work colleagues, frequently.  Amy didn’t begrudge him plenty of time in front of the TV.   And she didn’t hang all over him at parties, eagle-eying his behavior.  Nick could mingle with and speak to whomever he wished when they went out together.  Amy was the type of woman many guys imagine meeting and marrying but rarely do.  She may not have been perfect, but she was a little too good, and too unusual, to be true.  Nick didn’t notice this, of course.  Nick was happy with Amy in his life.  He was in love with the Amy he saw everyday.  As a result, Nick was on his best behavior, the kind of guy many woman would love to be with.  After Nick and Amy married, they remained the same people they were before marriage, unlike many couples who relax their characters and end up displaying unpleasant and unappreciated traits and behavior hidden from view prior to the wedding and the “honeymoon period”. 

To Nick’s utter dismay, his marriage had a honeymoon period; just longer than most at 2 -3 years.  But when the Dunne’s marriage went bad, it crashed and burned.  By their fifth anniversary, when the story of Nick and Amy Dunne begins in earnest, they’re barely speaking a civil word to each other.  On the day of their fifth anniversary, all hell breaks loose and pure insanity pervades the world of the Dunnes.  I’m not going to divulge what any of the craziness is.  I read this book without any knowledge of the story or characters.  I think it was the best way to read this story.  I was completely unaware of what happens to the Dunnes or how nutty and bizarre things become in Amy and Nick’s life.  And things become nasty, painful and frightening.   

Flynn has an amazing creative mind. Gone Girl is divided into three sections. Each section has its own plot within which there are twists and turns, shocks and surprises and complex ideas.  In addition, the story is also very funny at times and completely entertaining.  Flynn has done an incredible job developing Nick and Amy into real people.   Although I can’t relate to or sympathize with either of them, Flynn does a very good job helping the reader understand why Amy is such a crazy, manipulative woman and why Nick needs everyone’s approval.  The secondary characters are also recognizable and some, such as Andie, are amusing, especially when described by Amy.  Flynn’s writing is exceptional and thoroughly enjoyable. 

I was completely hooked on this book until about halfway through the second section.  I felt at that point the story became a little ridiculous, out-of-control and predictable for most of the remainder of the story.  I was also aggravated by some of the characters, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  And, even though I expected much of what happened in the rest of the story, the writing was still wonderful, certain characters were still their delightfully nutty selves and I was still being thoroughly entertained.  Things could be much worse!  So, although I preferred the first part of the book, I never considered putting Gone Girl down for good before I finished it.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it.  I’m looking forward to reading Gillian Flynn’s other books: Dark Places and Sharp Objects.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante 

Publisher: Europa Editions
Published: March 1, 2008
ISBN:  978-1933372426
Pages:  128
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary:    From the author of The Days of Abandonment, The Lost Daughter is Elena Ferrante's most compelling and perceptive meditation on womanhood and motherhood yet.  Leda, a middle-aged divorce, is alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home to live with their father. Her initial, unexpected sense of liberty turns to ferocious introspection following a seemingly trivial occurrence. Ferrante's language is as finely tuned and intense as ever, and she treats her theme with a fierce, candid tenacity.

My Thoughts:   Though this is a very short book, only 128 pages, it’s an intense story.  Elena Ferrante has eschewed a plot in favor of a character study of Leda, the protagonist, who is an emotionally complicated and layered woman.  She’s spending a week at the beach, alone.  She is a professor of literature and is looking forward to having time to work, read and relax, without interruption.  Her two daughters have moved to Canada to live with their dad. Leda, unlike other mothers who might find themselves in the same situation, is not upset by this.  In fact, she says:
“When my daughters moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover I wasn’t upset; I felt light, as if only then had I definitely brought them into the world.  For the first time in almost twenty-five years I was not aware of the anxiety of having to take care of them.”  
During the course of the week, as she thinks about the past and her relationship with her daughters, Leda occasionally believes she might be missing them but, ultimately, she decides she isn’t.   Within the first few chapters there’s a feeling of arrogance surrounding Leda and a feeling of superiority over others that permeates the story.  I think it comes from her education and her close work with professors, an achievement of which she has a lot of pride.  Leda’s career is very important to her but she doesn’t appear to have balanced career and motherhood very well.   

 Leda’s feelings, it turns out, are much more complicated and layered than she implies.  As the story progresses, Leda spends a lot of her time thinking about her relationship with her mother and her childhood as well as her own daughters.  Although she may not actually miss her daughters, Leda harbors some deep feelings of guilt related to their upbringing.  Leda eventually reveals the truth of her relationship with her daughters and the deep pain she’s ignored for years relating to her own mother’s behavior when Leda was just a child. 

 Leda’s prompted to delve into her past while observing, on the beach each day, a young mother and her daughter who are part of an imposing large, Italian family, also vacationing at the beach.  Elena Ferrante links Leda to this family by making them feel familiar to Leda.  The family of parents, grand-parents, in-laws, children, cousins and so on, reminds Leda of her own large family when she was a girl.  As Leda watches this family on the beach, she imagines mingling her own family members in with theirs.  This prompts her to think back to her days as a young girl.  Leda provides us with a good view of her childhood and a family she found ghastly.  But, for all her protestations, her family doesn’t sound all that bad to the reader as a neutral third party.  It’s possibly Leda’s trying to justify her behavior towards her own daughters.  It also seems quite possible Leda simply doesn’t like people very much.  She has a knack for sabotaging new relationships, liking a person one day, detesting them the next.   

The Italian family on the beach, like her own family, irritates Leda.  But she cannot seem to keep to herself and ignore them, much as she wants to.  She, eventually, finds herself talking with them.  Leda becomes extremely interested in the young Nina and her daughter, Elena, who are part of the family but also appear to be on their own.  Leda obsessively watches mother and daughter, their close connection, their need for no one else.  Again, being reminded of her own childhood, Leda describes a difficult and painful time with her erratic mother.  I had a lot of sympathy for Leda and was impressed that she got away from her family and worked hard to make a good life for herself.  But when she thinks about her own upbringing and her mother, Leda often seems to forget what she put her daughters through when they were growing up. 

The more I learned about Leda, the less I liked her.  I felt sorry for her at first but halfway through the book it became pity.  She’s a fascinating woman but contemptible.  She has confused and varying feelings about her daughters. One minute she loves and cares for them, the next she’s complaining bitterly about them.  Leda’s also difficult to trust because she changes her mind so frequently, she flits back and forth, unable to decide what she really thinks and feels about anyone or anything. But she’s honest about how she feels and what she thinks at a given point and tells us so.  Her honesty is often harsh, angry and delivered with blunt force.  Her interest in Nina and Elena grows hot and cold.  It also brings out some very unattractive behavior in Leda who doesn’t fully grasp how badly she’s behaved.  I’m not going to reveal what Leda does since it’s a central issue in the story.  Leda also speaks openly about her terrible behavior when her daughters were small, failing to grasp how awful it was.   She really has no right to complain about their lack of respect for her after what she put them through. Leda’s a selfish, self-centered woman who does what she wants, often at the expense of others.  I was surprised and shocked by some of Leda’s behavior.  It’s really despicable especially since Leda isn’t ashamed or embarrassed by her behavior. 

The Lost Daughter is as quick a read as you want it to be.  The lack of any real plot makes it easier to put the book down and pick it back up at any point.  I usually took a break when I needed to get away from Leda for a bit.  She always drew me back to the story, although, for her honesty and with the hope she might redeem herself and become less self-centered.  One other thing kept me returning to this book: Ferrante’s beautiful writing.  It’s subtle and simple and so elegant even when Leda is at her most angry and biting point.  I’ll share a little bit here: 
“How many things did I scream at her that it would have been better not even to think. I wanted – now that I had come back – my daughters to depend only on me.  At times it even seemed to me that I had created them by myself, I no longer remembered anything about Gianni, nothing intimately physical, his legs, his chest, his sex, his taste, as if we had never touched each other. When he went to Canada, that impression hardened, that I had nourished the girls only on myself, that I sensed in them only the female line of my descent, for good and ill. So my anxieties increased. For several years Bianca and Marta did badly in school, obviously they were upset. I got mad at them, pushed them, harassed them.  I said: what do you want to do in life, where do you want to end up, do you want to go backward, degrade yourselves, abolish all the efforts your father and I have made, return to being like your grandmother, who got no farther than elementary school. To Bianca I murmured, depressed: I’ve spoken to your teachers, how you’ve embarrassed me. I saw them both going off track, they seemed to me more and more pretentious and ignorant. I was sure that they would fail in their studies, in everything, and there was a period when I relaxed only when I knew they had been disciplined; then they began to do well at school and the shadows of the women of my family vanished.”
Ferrante has written a complex and mesmerizing story of motherhood, of being a woman and the choices one has to make.  Looking back on her life, Leda wonders about her choices, justifies them, but whether or not she’s satisfied with them is difficult to say.  I highly recommend this book to all readers, even those who don’t read character studies.  This book is worth reading, it’s intelligent, mystifying and compelling.

I won this book from Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea and I cannot thnk her enough for it.  I’m only sorry it took me so long to read. I hope it doesn’t take me as long to read Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Doctor Sleep ReadALong: The Wrap-Up!


Doctor Sleep Read-a-long:  The Wrap-up!

Reading Doctor Sleep has been exciting, creepy and a good time over-all!  Thank you to Tif and Charlene for hosting a great read-a-long!

1. Before we started reading, we asked if you had any expectations for Doctor Sleep.  Did you get what you were hoping for out of the book?

Doctor Sleep met and exceeded my expectations.  I thought it would be a good story that I would enjoy reading. But it was more than that, it really was an excellent story with so many different layers, great characters and human, poignant moments, violent happenings and wonderful, bizarre magic & fantasy.  And it all worked together.  King did an excellent job of explaining Danny’s life after The Shining

2. Having finished the book, do you think having read The Shining is important for enjoying this one?

I don’t think it’s t all necessary to have read The Shining to understand or enjoy Doctor Sleep.  The first chapter here explains anything that needs explanation for readers unfamiliar with The Shining and gives new information for all readers, setting up the rest of the story.  King’s imagination boggles my mind.  The ideas and occurrences he comes up with are amazing.

3. In one word, one phrase, one sentence ... describe Doctor Sleep.

I think Doctor Sleep is all about Friendship and Trust. Danny is able to get his life back on track when he meets Billy who introduces him to the boss who helps him out.  And then there’s Dr. John who agrees to help.  Danny’s relationship with Abra is fantastic and it’s their connection and their trust in each other that assures they work well together.   We even see friendship and trust  in the True Knot until it becomes too crazy for many of them.

4. Anything else you feel like discussing about the end of the book?  Or, about the book as a whole?

One thing that took me by surprise, but I realized made perfect sense and worked within the story, was the blood connection between Danny and Abra. 

I appreciated King not ending Doctor Sleep with Rose’s death but showing Abra a little older struggling to cope with her powers and her anger.  So often books just end suddenly and I feel I’m left hanging with a zillion questions.  Doctor Sleep was better than that.

I’m also curious about the True Knot members who went off on their own.  Will they just die off like regular humans now.  I can’t imagine they’ll be able to get any steam. I also wonder how they’ll support themselves.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Doctor Sleep Read-a-long Chapters 7 - 13

Doctor Sleep Read-a-long Weeks 1 and 2 :

I am a little behind in responding to the read-a-long questions which Tif at Tif Talks Books and Charlene of Cheap Thrills have done a great job coming up with each week.  Sorry Tif and Charlene, than you for these awesome questions!!  I’ve responded to this week’s questions first but last week’s questions are listed at the bottom of this post.

Chapters 7 – 13:

 6. In Part One, we get to know Abra mostly through her parents or other adults. In Part Two, we get to know her much better. What do you think of this extraordinary girl?
I think Abra is adorable.  She seems to be a mix between an old soul and a sweet, naïve young girl.  She’s very happy (I love the frequent referral to her giggling!) and has grown up in a loving home.  It’s remarkable that she’s been able to hide her powers from her parents as she got older. This is also so sweet and an indication of how much she loves them.  She seems quite happy to have met Danny, since he’s someone with whom she can discuss shining and other special abilities. She’s obviously pretty scared, too, but like so many children who trust adults to keep them safe, she trusts Danny won’t let anything happen to her.

 7. Do you have any speculations on what the True Knot are? We know how they sustain themselves, and we've seen the way they die. They're not, as Abra calls them, "ghostie people," but they aren't really human either.
The “True Knot” people seem to be a mix of human and monster.  They are able to look like humans and behave like them when they want to. And they can be scary monsters when they choose to be.  All the True Knot members seem to have some kind of power, like Snakebite Andi can put people to sleep by suggesting they’re tired. Dick Hallorann told Danny the True Knot are “empty devils”.  They’re “like a cancer on the skin” and they “eat screams and drink pain”.  It makes me shudder just thinking about them!

9. Considering that Chapter Thirteen is one of the most intense in the book so far, did anyone actually stop reading here? Or could you not wait to race on ahead?
Wow, was Chapter 13 intense!  I couldn’t stop and not continue on to 14 since Crow had been left in Anniston and would be looking for Abra.  And Rose’s reaction in Chapter 13 was too good not to read on and se what else happens!

10. How is Doctor Sleep treating you so far?  Is it keeping you awake at nights?  Are you excited to finish it and chat next week about the ending?
Doctor Sleep is great, I’m really enjoying it.  It isn’t keeping up at night because of fear but because I cannot stop reading it!  There are times when I get nervous or freaked out because the story is scary but I like that!  I’m really looking forward to chatting about the ending.

Chapters 1 – 6:

1. Doctor Sleep picks up not long after the closing of The Shining.  For those who have recently read The Shining, do you think it proves to be helpful in diving into the sequel?  If you have not recently read The Shining, do you feel you are missing out on some of the details?
I haven’t recently read The Shining but I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on anything.  I think Stephen King does an excellent job of filling in the back story for anyone who never read The Shining or read it long ago.  I think Chapter One is necessary for this book as well as for the past.  I like the way King handles this aspect of Doctor Sleep in relation to The Shining, including young Danny and Dick Hallorann in the story.  And I loved the lockboxes idea even though they scared me…a lot!

 2. Danny has now become Dan.  In Part One, we watch his transformations from learning to live with the horrors of The Overlook to succumbing to the drink (like his father) to his road to sobriety and earning the title of Doctor Sleep.  What do you think about the journey King has taken Dan on thus far?
Dan has been through quite a bit and I’m not surprised he succumbed to drinking given his entire situation and his DNA.  But I agree with Ti at Book Chatter that DAN is a little too perfect or something’s off with him.  He just land’s on his feet and finds exactly what he needs too easily.  I like Dan, though, and I liked how the story went.  I also really enjoy King’s writing and the detail he puts in the story, such as Teenytown and Rivington House with the cat Azzie.

 3. We are also introduced to the True Knot in this first section.  What do you think about this group?
They scare me.  They’re very smug and sure of themselves.  It’s also disconcerting how little regard they have for other people.  They are also really into having sex with each other although it sounds as if, eventually, they partner up!

4.  Overall, what do you think so far?  Have you completely fallen into the story?  Or, has it taken a bit longer to get back into the life of little Danny Torrance?
I’ve been enjoying the story from page one. I think it’s really interesting and draws you in right away

~ A Kindle Fire Giveaway Fall 2013 at BookHounds Blog!!

A long list of generous bloggers and authors have joined together in a giveaway of a Kindle Fire HD 7", or a $199 Amazon Card or Paypal Cash (International) to celebrate Fall 2013

To read about this amazing giveaway and to enter, visit the organizer of the event, I am a Reader Not A Writer or the Blog where I discovered this giveaway, BookHounds Blog for a fully explained post and a list of contributing authors and bloggers where you can also enter this giveaway.

The giveaway ends on October 31st, 2013, Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph. This book has been on my shelf for too long and I've wanted to read it.  It's a quick read, a lot of dialogue and rather sad.  The story mimics the author's life quite a bit.  By age 27 the main character has had something like four husbands and at least one child, if not more, with each husband!

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and the other participants. You'll probably get some good book titles, too.
The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer
"Well," I said, "I will try. I honestly will try to be honest with you, although I suppose really what you're more interested in is my not being honest, if you see what I mean."
The doctor smiled slightly.
"When I was a child my mother had a wool drawer. It was the bottom drawer in a chest in the dining room and she kept every scrap of wool she had in it. You know, bits from years ago, jumpers she'd knitted me when I was two. Some of the bits were only a few inches long. Well, this drawer was filled with wool, all colours, and whenever it was a wet afternoon she used to make me tidy her wool drawer. It's perfectly obvious why I tell you this. There was no point in tidying the drawer. The wool was quite useless. You couldn't have knitted a tea-cosy out of that wool, I mean without enormous patience. She just made me sort it out for something to do, like they make prisoners dig holes and fill them up again. You do see what I mean, don't you?"
 "You would like to be something useful," he said sadly. "Like a tea-cosy."
"It can't be as easy as that."
"Oh no. It's not at all easy. But there are other things you can make from wool."
"Such as?"
"Hot water bottle covers," he said promptly.

What do you think?  Would you keep reading this book? 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Read-a-thon Mini-Challenge: Mad Libs!

Read-a-Thon Mini Challenge Hour 7: Mad Libs!

Nisaba Be Praised is hosting this very fun mini-challenge.  I took a paragraph from the book The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon and gave my husband a list of words and terms to come up with.  I replaced the words in the paragraph with his words.   
Original paragraph:
I waited until Bea had gone into the building and then set off briskly, turning to glance back at every step.  Slowly I became possessed by the absurd conviction that everything was possible, and it seemed to me that even those deserted streets and hostile wind smelled of hope.  When I reached Plaza de Cataluna, I noticed that a flock of pigeons had congregated in the square. They covered it all with a blanket of white feathers that swayed silently.  I thought about going around them, but at that moment I noticed that the pigeons parted to let me pass, without flying off.  I felt my way forward, as the pigeons broke ranks in front of me and re-formed behind me.  When I got to the square, I heard the peal of the cathedral bells ringing out midnight.  I paused for a moment, stranded in an ocean of silver birds, and thought how this had been the strangest and most marvelous day of my life. 
I asked my husband for I famous person, 2 animals, 1 general location, 1 well-known location, 1 type of travel, 1 general direction, 1 time of day,  2 colors, 1 sound and 1 instrument of sound
Mad Libs:
I waited until Ludwig Van Beethoven had gone into the gynecologist’s office and then set off briskly, turning to glance back at every step. Slowly I became possessed by the absurd conviction that everything was possible, and it seemed to me that even those deserted streets and hostile wind smelled of hope.  When I reached Grand Central Station, I noticed that a flock of dung beetles had congregated in the square. They covered it all with an anorak of egg shell white feathers that swayed silently.  I thought about going around them, but at that moment I noticed that the dung beetles parted to let me pass, without moon rovering off.  I felt my way straight to hell, as the dung beetles broke ranks in front of me and re-formed behind me.  When I got to the western hemisphere, I heard the clarion call of a gazoo ringing out dawn.  I paused for a moment, stranded in an ocean of yellow silver-back gorillas, and thought how this had been the strangest and most marvelous day of my life.

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon!

I'm a little late posting my starting memo for Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon.  When I woke up I felt like reading so I read for a while before checking in on-line.  One of my favorite things to do is read in bed at night before I go to sleep and again in the morning as I wake up with some coffee.
So here are my answers to the opening meme: 

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?  I’m reading from one of the boroughs of NYC: Brooklyn! 

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I’m looking forward to several books today, Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor; Talk Talk by TC Boyle; What Alice Forgot…by Liane Moriarty and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill 

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?  I love cheese and crackers! I’ll also be snacking on some graham crackers and peanut butter.  It’s a great combo.  Plenty of coffee and tea, too!   

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!   I’ve participated in several read-a-thons and was a cheerleader for one.  This readathon is a  lot of fun and the organizers come up with great mini-contests and fun events to keep readers spirits up.  I admit that I’ve never been able to stay up a full 24 hours!  

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?  I’m hoping to get a lot of reading done today.  I really like the books I have and the contests and challenges tend to flummox me a bit…but I’ll see what today brings!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

 Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
 Publisher: Harper
Published: September 10, 2013
ISBN: 9780061493355
Pages:  496
Rating:  3  out of 5

Book Summary:  As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complications to the couples’ already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe’s life.

 My Thoughts:  I looked forward to this book having enjoyed a few of Michael Chabon’s other books but, this book was just okay for me.   Fortunately, I found more reasons to continue reading this book than to put it down for good, although I came close to giving up on it several times.   The characters in Telegraph Avenue are largely responsible for keeping me reading the book.   Archy Stallings is one of the main characters in this book and a charming albeit complex and flawed man.   Raised in Oakland, CA, he owns Brokeland Records with his best friend, Nat Jaffe.  Brokeland Records used to be an old-fashioned barber shop. The kind were men gather in the afternoon to chat and read the papers.  Much of the former barbershops clientele hangs out at Brokelend Records, still, giving the store a traditional air.   Recently, there's been a change in the air at Brokeland Records. There’s a feeling of melancholy  in the air of the shop now because Gibson Goode, a former NFL star, is rumored to be opening a large mall just down the street, the main attraction being a large music store that will also be selling vinyl.  So Archy and Nate are out of sorts at the moment and trying to figure out what to do. 
Archy has more troubling things on his mind at the moment.  He'd rather just hang out at the shop which is causing him to shirk his responsibilities elsewhere.  Archy's  father, Luther Stallings, is harassing him for money, a common enough occurrence.  One of the major themes of Telegraph Avenue is parenthood/parenting.  Archy is currently coping with several different issues that involve being a father, in addition to his father's harassment.  He has a poor relationship with his father was a prevalent drug and alcohol addict in the ‘70s when he was a Blaxploitation star.  Now he’s clean and looking to make a comeback for which he needs Archy’s help.  Archy doesn’t respect Luther and wants nothing to do with him.  Archy relies on the advice of Cochise Jones, a colorful and eccentric, elderly organ player who walks around with a parrot, Fifty-eight, on his shoulder. Mr. Jones has been a surrogate father of sorts to Archy for years and knows him quite well.
In the opening pages of Telegraph Avenue we learn just how conflicted Archy is about fatherhood and being a father himself.  We also get an idea of just how flawed a human being he is when we learn that Archy’s been cheating on his wife, Gwen.  Gwen is a thoughtful, intelligent, open-minded woman who I found easy to like, as many do, and the more I got to know Gwen, the more I respected her for her values and morals.  What’s so troubling about Archy’s cheating is that Gwen is pregnant with their first child. His behavior forces Gwen to kick him out of their house, hopefully temporarily. Archy isn’t sure he wants to be a father and in the guise of a younger man, he acts out his confusion.  Archy’s behavior appears all the more ironic when Cochise Jones informs Archy his illegitimate 14-year old son Titus, is living in Oakland.  Archy’s behavior is disappointing, but not surprising, when he takes a long time to warm up to Titus and treat him as his son.
There’s quite a lot going on in this novel, all of it interesting. Chabon peppers the story with a lot of humor and wit to keep a plot that could easily become dark and heavy a bit lighter.  Themes such as race and racism, capitalism, tradition, gentrification and family life weave there way throughout the narrative but often, the story’s pace is sluggish because of the writing. Chabon’s writing is dense and the language cumbersome.  At one point in the book a sentence goes on for several pages, filled with complicated text.  Metaphors are used to describe characters, modes of dress, buildings and vistas, often making it difficult to ascertain what Chabon is talking about.  When Archy and Nat are first introduced it took a quarter of the book for me to understand which character was African American and which one was Caucasian.  I was frustrated by the writing.  Had the use of metaphor or heavy words, used multiple times in a row, occurred only occasionally, I could have coped with it. But sometimes this kind of writing, like the passage below, went on for pages.

“Damn right,” said the man they were escorting from the hall, and as they came nearer, Mr. Nostalgia saw that it really was him.  Thirty years too old, twenty pounds too light, forty watts too dim, maybe: but him.  Red tracksuit a size too small, baring his ankles and wrists.  Jacket waistband riding up in back under a screened logo in yellow, a pair of upraised fists circled by the words BRUCE LEE INSTITUTE, OAKLAND, CA.  Long and broad-shouldered with that spring in his gait, coiling and uncoiling.  Making a show of dignity that struck Mr. Nostalgia as poignant if not successful.  Everybody staring at the guy, all the men with potbellies and back hair and doughy white faces, heads balding, Autumn leaves falling in their hearts.  Looking up from the bins full of back issues of Inside Sports, the framed Terrible Towels with their bronze plaques identifying the nubbly signature in black Sharpie on yellow terrycloth as that of Rocky Bleier or Lynn Swann.  Lifting their heads from the tables ranged with rookie cards of their youthful idols (Pete Maravich, Robin Yount, Bobby Orr) with canceled checks drawn on long-vanished bank accounts of Ted Williams or Joe Namath, unopened cello packs of ’71 Topps baseball cards, their fragile black borders pristine as memory, and of ’86 Fleer basketball cards, everyone holding a potential rookie Jordan.  Watching this big gray-haired black man they half-remembered, a face out of their youth, get the bum’s rush. That’s the dude from the signing line. Was talking to Gibson Goode, got kind of loud. Hey, yeah, that’s what’s-his-face.  Give him credit, the poor bastard managed to keep his chin up.  The chin – him, all right – with the Kirk Douglas dimple.  The light eyes.  The hands, Jesus, like two up-rooted trees.

I wouldn’t recommend this book by Michael Chabon to too many people.  He’s written several other books, such as The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys which I would highly recommend to other readers.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for a copy of Telegraph Avenue and the chance to read and review this book.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O'Nan

The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O’Nan
Publisher: Viking Adult
Published: January 19, 2012
ISBN: 9780670023165
Pages: 192
Rating:  5  out of 5

Book Summary:  Jobless, nearly homeless, and with their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland home for one last Valentine's Day hurrah at Niagara Falls. Their days are spent sightseeing, but at night they risk what dwindling resources they have left at the roulette wheel to fix their finances.

A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances. The Odds is a reminder that love and life are always a gamble.

My Thoughts:  The Odds is a small book that delivers a rich and powerful story, one to which many of its readers can relate.  Stewart O’Nan wrote this book at a time when the economy was failing and destroying the lives of people across America.  In just a few short years, Art and Marion Fowler’s lives have been turned upside down.  Art believes he has the answer to theirs, if not his, prayers.  He thinks he and Marion can rekindle their romance at Niagara Falls, the scene of their honeymoon, and, quite possibly, win enough money at the casino to pay their mortgage and get them back on track.  Art’s so excited at times, he’s almost giddy.  Marion agrees to go along with Art’s plan though she thinks it’s a pipe dream.  For Marion, the Niagara weekend is a last hurrah: a celebration, of sorts, of their years together, as well as a chance for her to clear the slate and start over, alone. 

Two specific elements make The Odds shine and so worth reading: O’Nan’s character development and his astounding observations of human nature and behavior.   Art and Marion could be our next-door neighbors, our aunt and uncle, possibly even ourselves.  They’re so recognizable and such real people it’s easy to sympathize with them one minute and feel frustrated by them the next.  Marion and Art have very different ideas about where their lives are going now.  O’Nan understands how both men and women feel after being together 20 years, raising two children and navigating the highs and lows of life together.   

O’Nan‘s awareness of the depth of a woman’s emotions comes across in his deft portrayal of Marion as a woman who cannot deal with the past.  There’s too much pain, angst and disappointment from her years with Art.  She cannot imagine letting go of that time and staying together as if the hurt never happened.  When Marion looks at Art, more often than not she is irritated by his behavior and unable to forgive him for the affair he had.  O’Nan also clearly understands how much easier it is for men to let go of the past, even to ignore it as if it no longer matters.  Like Art, men think they can fix mistakes and smooth over the bitterness and disillusionments. Art believes he can persuade Marion to love him like she did early in their marriage by coaxing her with the Valentine’s Day weekend at Niagara Falls and a pretty new engagement ring.  Art doesn’t how much she’s been hurt and how Marion feels about their marriage. 
O’Nan gives us a prelude to every chapter in the form of a statement of the odds of some event or other happening.  This fun and fascinating literary vehicle heading each chapter foreshadows an aspect of Art and Marion’s life we will learn about through them.  I began to wonder if Art and Marion’s story would follow the statistics and become a cliché or if they would be able to persevere and beat the odds.  I was completely invested in Art and Marion’s story and curious to know where they ended up. 

 Art and Marion’s life together was revealed to us through each of their thoughts and feelings which revealed bits and pieces of their past.  These ‘pictures’ also showed us how they were feeling.  Art, although upset with life, is consumed with his final plan and the $8,000 he’s carrying around in a gym bag whereas Marion is afraid of the future because of the past.  O’Nan’s empathy with and understanding of his character’s feelings, of their confusion and fear, brings Art and Marion to life for us.  As the novel moves towards the end, we find we’re invested in what’s happening with Art and Marion and wonder where they will end up.  Although it seems as if little has happened in The Odds, quite a bit has actually happened.  I found it difficult to close the book on Art and Marion and have found myself thinking of them frequently since I finished the book.  I know many bloggers have read this book but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

~ ~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph.
I won this book shortly after it was published and have meant to read it ever since. Like so many of my books, it got lost on my shelves for a while but I recently unearthed it while on an organizing kick. I've just started reading it and already I'm hooked! The story is set in a private academy in MA and centers on a 14-year old girl who wants to be a journalist like the deceased Edward R. Murrow she idolizes and converses with daily! Sounds fascinating, right?!

Be sure to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and see who else is participating! You'll surely get some good book titles!

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
These pressure-loving microbes live in the ocean depths under extreme hydrostatic pressure. They exist not in spite of the oceans crushing weight, but because of it. Without this pressure to fight against, they would perish.
  ~Marvelous Species: Investigating Earth's Mysterious Biology

August 2012
THE DAYS WERE already growing shorter, prodding us toward summers end, when my mother and I left Boston for the sequestered town of Nye. She hummed to the radio and I sat strapped into the passenger seat, like a convict being shuttled between prisons. In the last six months my Beacon Hill neighborhood had shrunk to the size of a single room: Dr. Patrick's office, with its greasy magazines and hieroglyphic water stains. The vast landscape that opened before us now wasn't any more comforting. The mountainous peaks resembled teeth. The road stretched between them like a black tongue. And here we were, in our small vehicle, speeding toward that awful mouth.  
From the maps and photographs I had uncovered at the Boston Public Library, I knew that Nye would be a nest of gloomy woods sunk into one of these mountains. The mountain had no name, which troubled me. Even the word “Nye” sounded like a negation, an absence, a place conflicted about its own existence.  
My mother (Ivy League MRS recipient and full-time philanthropy board member) was unimpressed by this detail. In fact, she was chipper as a Today Show host. “Isn't it exciting, Iris! Starting high school on a new foot?”  
“You want to replace my biological foot with a prosthetic one?”  
“Don't give me that cliché nonsense.”
You mean anti-cliché nonsense, I thought, and switched the station to NPR. I tried to let the familiar voices soothe me, but every mile brought us closer to the hunching mountains, those hills overlapping like the folds of a thick curtain, hiding Nye from sight.  
The official reason for my family's move was professional. My father (savvy businessman, befuddled parent) was opening a second Berkshires resort for tourists who liked to experience nature while they had their leg hair singed off with lasers and their eyelashes dyed. The unofficial reason we were leaving Boston, however, was Dr. Patrick. I'd started seeing him six months before, after my mother found me arguing emphatically with the wall. Well, all she saw was the wall, but I was having a conference with my spiritual mentor, Edward R. Murrow. (And, yes, I knew he'd been dead for forty-seven years, but why should a person limit her interlocutors to the living?) And because there was no “What to Do When Your Daughter Talks to Dead Journalists” chapter in the myriad self-help books my mom had been reading, she shipped me straight off to the good doctor.
What do you think? Would you continue reading?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson 

Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers
Published Date:  June 14, 2011
ISBN: 978-0062060556
Pages: 358
Rating: 4.5  out of 5

Book Summary:  Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he’s obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis—all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesic. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she’s written three unexpected and terrifying words: “Don’t trust Ben.” Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her condition? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? And, for the reader: Can Christine’s story be trusted? 

My Thoughts:   This book grabbed hold of my attention from the very beginning and kept me glued to the pages all the way through.   The story is told in the first-person voice of the main character, Christine.  This is an extremely effective way to tell the story because it means the reader shares Christine’s experiences with her as she has them.  Since she suffers from an especially brutal form of amnesia, you can begin to imagine how shocking and surprising this reading experience is at times.  Every morning when she wakes up, Christine has no memory of the day, week, month or year before.  She has no idea who she is, who is the man in bed next to her, where she is or where she lives or even how old she is.   We feel some of the same fear and pain as Christine does while she desperately tries  to figure out who she is.  Her husband, Ben, wakes and, as he tells her, again, who she is, who he is, where they live and more, she has no recourse but to believe him.  Christine is completely dependent on Ben for everything, a rather unsettling feeling especially since she doesn’t feel like she knows him. Ben is, essentially, a stranger to her.    

It’s easy to sympathize with Christine.  She seems so alone and so innocent, such a victim.  As the story continues, Christine begins to experience flashes of memories.  She’s not sure she can trust what she sees and feels, but these memory flashes are too tempting to ignore.  They’re also frightening because some of them reveal that the people she trusts may be lying to her. The memory flashes also reveal things about her that horrify Christine.  She may not be just an innocent, sweet, victim after all.  The pace of the story increases as it becomes clear something sinister is happening here.  S. J. Watson has a knack for plot twists and turns that confuse not only Christine but his readers, as well.  A couple of times I was sure I knew what was happening only to discover I was completely off-track. This made for an exciting read! 

The premise of Before I Go to Sleep is fascinating.  It reminds me of the movie, Memento in which a man suffers amnesia after an attack in which his wife is murdered.  He uses a different system than Christine to compensate for the memories he can no longer retain.  But, like Christine, he constantly questions what people say to him, always unsure of whether he can trust what they tell him.  It’s frightening to contemplate living without being able to remember what you did, who you spoke to or where you were the day before or earlier in the week.  Although there are ways to compensate for memory loss, they’re poor substitutes, at best, for the real thing.  And to think, then, that people in your life will use your infirmity to manipulate you, it causes goose pimples up my arms and a chill down my spine.  But, as Watson proved here, these elements can be brought together in a wonderfully taught, suspenseful novel that’s nearly impossible to put down once you start reading it. 

This book received rave reviews when it first appeared.  I waited to read it because everywhere I looked in the book blogging community, I found it.  I’m always concerned that I’ll expect more from a book so highly spoken of and, as a result, might be disappointed with the book when, in reality, it really is quite good.  I’m glad I waited to read this book because it’s a fantastic, exciting, totally suspenseful book that I was absorbed into the moment I started reading it.  If you haven’t read Before I Go to Sleep, I highly recommend it!