Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: February

March by Geraldine Brooks: Really Good/4 Stars

This is the second of Brook's books that I've read recently. I really like her writing style and her imagination!

March is primarily about the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"; meaning, what he was up to while he was absent from that story. But, it's more than just what Mr. March was doing during the Civil War as the tale goes back and forth between "the present" and March's life before he met Mrs. March (Marmee) as well as telling the story of how he and Marmee met.

For anyone who loved "Little Women", this is a must as it's simply a neat concept; write about secondary (if even that) characters from a famous book and provide that character's perspective on the others. In addition to hearing from Mr. March, our thoughts of the seemingly saintly personage of Marmee are knocked out of the sky.

I'll admit I did get a bit frustrated with Mr. March towards the end of the book (probably meant to) and I sometimes found Marmee quite, well, shrill, but, in general, I thought ALL of the characters were well written and the concept, once again, quite fascinating.

FYI, if you read this and enjoy it as well, read "The Wind Done Gone" by Alice Randall who pens a tale around the character of "Gone with the Wind" as told by Scarlet's slave half-sister.

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi (Book Club Selection): Solid/Good/ 3 Stars

From Goodreads: "Douglas Preston fulfilled a lifelong dream when he moved his family to a villa in Florence. Upon meeting celebrated journalist Mario Spezi, Preston was stunned to learn that the olive grove next to his home had been the scene of a horrific double-murder committed by one of the most infamous figures in Italian history. A serial killer who ritually murdered fourteen young lovers, he was never caught. He is known as “The Monster of Florence." Fascinated by the tale, Preston began to work with Spezi on the case. Here is the true story of their search to uncover and confront the man they believe is the Monster. In an ironic twist of fate that echoes the dark traditions of the city's bloody history, Preston and Spezi themselves become targets of a bizarre police investigation.

Unfortunately, I never really wrote my review of this book after we’d discussed it in book club. Now, I can’t really remember too much about what I thought except I do recall it was a pretty fast and interesting read, despite the multitude of Italian names one had to try to keep track of. Luckily, there was a “Cast of Character” list included, as well as a timeline. This is the brief snippet I did write after reading the book:

Review forthcoming after book club discussion on 1 March.

For now, let me just say:

1. It's a good thing the investigators/police in the US didn't handle the case of, say, Charles Manson in this way or else he'd still be running around murdering and terrorizing people in California.

2. Sometimes, a doorstop is just a doorstop.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (CD): Really Good/4 Stars

I was enthralled with this story.

Gogol is a typical American teenager growing up on the East coast in the 70s and 80s. His mother and father immigrated to America from Bengali India in the late 60s after an arranged marriage. His name Gogol (his "pet name") was bestowed on him by his father after one of his favorite (Russian) authors (and there is much more to it than that). Gogol was supposed to have a "good name" as well, but the letter from India from his grandmother which contained his good name never arrived. So, Gogol he became. When his parents tried to give him a "good name" (Nikhil) when he entered school, he refused to answer to it.

Although Gogol's parents do their best to fit in, they never quite do. Gogol and his younger sister are usually a bit mortified by their parents and do all they can to encourage them to become more "American" (celebrate Christmas, have one "American" meal for dinner a week).

Gogol grows up, goes to college, chooses a career that is not one his family had hoped for and, most importantly for him, he legally changes his name from Gogol to Nikhil (the "good name" his parents had tried to bestow on him at age five) because he'd become uncomfortable with Gogol; felt people wouldn't take him seriously, etc. Gogol/Nikhil becomes involved with different women, but, none of his relationships really work out; an interesting parallel to the fact that his parents relationship, although arranged, endures.

In the end, this was an enchanting story about two generations of an Indian family and the relationships between father/son, mother/son, brother/sister, husband/wife. Like Anne Tyler, Lahiri is a master of character development and writing a story that isn't really about anything in particular; just, simply, life. I've added her books of short stories to my to-read shelf as I am interested in reading more of her work.

It's poignant, funny and thought-provoking. I think I liked it all the more having listening to it as opposed to reading it myself as the narrator was able to provide the correct accents for the main characters; for whatever reason, I love listening to Indian voices.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry: Didn’t Much Care For/2 Stars

I probably would have liked this book a lot better had it been about what I thought it was going to be; lace readers, witches and tarot readers in Salem, MA. Well, it WAS sort of, but, just barely.

I went to Salem, MA with my step-mom back in the 70s. Thanks to Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", I had some understanding of the Salem Witch Hunt of the late 1600s. Even though it was definitely tacky, I was fascinated by The Salem Witch Museum and the various shops filled with "witch stuff". I bought a deck of Fortune Telling Cards that I had for many years after (maybe this was what planted the seed of interest for my future Tarot reading?) We also stopped by Hawthorne's fabled house of 7 Gables.

Anyway, back to the task at hand, this book. Someone in my book club mentioned she'd read it; come to think of it, I don't remember her saying if she liked it or not. All I heard was "Salem", "Witches", "Readers"; so, I got the book.

Turns out that these things were in the tale, just on the periphery, though. I found the actual story to be vaguely interesting if a bit old; a troubled woman tries to come to terms with the death of her twin, childhood abuse, etc. Add in a half-hearted romance with the local (alcoholic) cop, a weird bunch of religious freaks, some wild dogs on a lonely island and a emotionally distant mother, well; I felt I'd read this before.

Still, I got through it quickly so it WAS readable. But, another problem, though; it was a bit convoluted and so I kept forgetting what had happened and had to go back and reread portions.

I don't think I should have bothered because the ending twist was so unexpected (and happened in the last 10 pages of the book) that I don't think I ever could have seen it coming (or else maybe I could have, had I been paying better attention). Seriously, the end came with a BANG and left me thinking, "WTF?" Not to mention, there were many aspects of the tale that were just sort of left hanging out there or unexplained.

So, I guess this is one of those books that, should I care to, I might reread, knowing the ending, and getting more out of it. But, I didn't like it enough to reread it, so, there you have it.

I did get a kick out of (the limited) exposure to Salem, the witches, etc.

Mrs. B


The Afflicted Girls said...

Hi Mrs. B,
You might find what you felt was missing from "The Lace Reader" in my book: THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem by Suzy Witten (ISBN: 978-0-615-32313-8), which won the 2010 IPPY Silver Medal for Historical Fiction. "Something terrible happened in Salem Village in 1692... but it isn't what you think." This is adult fiction for ages 17 and older. I hope you'll consider reading my exploration of the Salem Witch Hunt and sharing a review on your blog. (I agree with you about Geraldine Brooks. I loved "Year of Wonders," but haven't yet read "March.") Some info about my book:
Thanks, and Happy 2011!
Suzy Witten, Author

Mrs. B said...

Thanks, Suzy, just added your book to my Goodreads To Read list!

I also read "The Heretics Daughter" this past year; again, not terribly thrilled with it; review coming later.

Will look forward to something GOOD about that time (other than "The Crucible", of course).