Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: August

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: Totally Awesome/5 Stars
I almost did not read this book because I just have this "thing" about animals dying. Ever since I read "Sounder" as a child, I can't barely get through anything where an animal, in however way, dies. Not that this is the focus of this book by any stretch, but, you got to know it's coming at some point.

However, I'm really glad I read it and would encourage anyone who has ever had a dog (or a cat, for that matter) that has been with them for ages and ages and through thick and thin and who you have wondered what in the heck they must be thinking about you, to read it as well.

It can be as light or as deep as you like it to be. It's definitely a quick read/page turner. The narrative (from Enzo the dog's perspective) manages to be both amusing and sage at the same time; just what you might imagine an old dog who has seen a lot would have to say if he had a tongue that allowed him to form words and sentences.

Finally, for those of us who I have lost pets and contemplated where they've "gone"; you'll likely love the ending.

If you a) hate animals b) have no sense of sentimentality c) and are in general a Scrooge, then, don't read this book :-)

It'll break your heart, but, in a good way.

Maybe I can now muster up the guts to read "Marley and Me"!

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #3) by Rick Riordan: Solid/Good/3 Stars
I continue to enjoy this series. I think my book club friend is right; this is the best one so far with the introduction of a few more Gods, more challenges for our intrepid hero and his pals, and a bit more darkness.

I have to say, though; the format is seriously reminding me of the Harry Potter books (each book = a different year; each book a bit more complex/dark).

No matter. They are definitely fun reads! And, judging by the tattered conditions of the books (borrowed from the library), much read!

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (CD): Solid/Good/3 Stars
I first visited Salem MA as a small girl with my step-mom. I clearly remember going to the Salem Witch Museum (and buying a pack of "fortune teller's" cards!)

Over the course of my life, I've read quite a bit about the trials and subsequent hanging of "witches"; obviously, the real evil was how completely sane and adult persons allowed themselves to be swept up into a witch hunt by a slew of hysterical (and conniving) teenage girls. Surely, someone should have stopped and thought to themselves, "Wait a second here..." Well, of course some did, and they ended up dead.

So, I was drawn to this particular book; a somewhat fictionalized accounting of a family living on the outskirts of Salem yet still finding themselves drawn into this ugly drama.

The story is narrated by Sarah Carrier, the daughter of one Martha Carrier, who was, indeed, accused of being a witch. At the end of her own life, Sarah is relaying the sorry tale to a much-loved granddaughter so that the truth won't be lost.

95% of the book takes place in 1691-1692 and centers around Sarah's family dynamics, her love-hate relationship with her mother, and her dawning realization that it isn't her mother who is the "bad guy" (How many of us have been there? Luckily, not many of us had our mother's hanged as a witch).

A Google search shows that Martha Carrier was indeed a real person who was accused, tried, sentenced and hanged as a witch on August 19th 1692. Apparently, Kent is a descendant of Martha Carrier, which is why she chose to write the book. Kent does well enough weaving in the other characters of the day into the story and describing the mouth gaping events that took place in Salem and surrounding towns. I think I would have preferred, however, a bit more about Martha herself and a little less about Sarah; especially as one Google return said something like "Martha Carrier: A Puritan Feminist?" and Cotton Mather referred to her as "The Queen of Hell" (sounds like a good title of a book to me!)

Still, entertaining and interesting enough; especially as a "listen to". And now, I'm curious enough about Martha Carrier to go dig up more on her and maybe, too, re-read Miller's classic "The Crucible".

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Book Club Selection): Totally Awesome/5 Stars
Absolutely loved this book. Don't really care what all the "nay sayers" out there have to report on it. It's fantastic. And, considering it's Stockett's first novel, even more so.

Three wonderfully written main characters, a bevy of well rounded secondary characters, and an age old tale of doing what is right, regardless of the potential cost to oneself, means one quick paced read.

That's all!

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (CD): Solid/Good/3 Stars
I'm not really a short story type of person but this one was ok, probably because all of the stories were connected by the title character.

Olive is a seventy-something crotchety dame living in Maine with her usually low key husband Henry. She's one of those "characters"; she'd be a lot of fun to chat with but boy, would she be draining if you had to deal with her all of the time.

Each story either is about Olive or her husband or her somewhat estranged son or is about someone else living in their town of Crosby and Olive and/or Henry makes a cameo appearance in their story.

As with any collection of stories, some of them are definitely better than others, but, frankly, there were a few (and overall, there were A LOT of stories) that were sorta lame.

I listened to this whilst driving around town, working out or futzing in the kitchen. The narrator was quite good; even managed to do an excellent rendition of what a person sounds like on speaker phone.

I may be tempted to read something else by Strout now, which is sometimes what picking up something completely out of your interest zone is all about.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: Solid/Good/3 Stars
I had a love-hate relationship with this book which, in the end, turned into a resounding "Like".

I think the majority of my issue with the book, a historical fiction accounting of (most of) Thomas Cromwell's life, was simply the style in which it was written. It took me 3/4 of the book to finally "get" Mantel's voice. As she is a renowned author in her native England, I figured she had to be worth plugging on with, and, she was.

That aside, I thought it brilliant how, in Mantel's hands, all of the characters from this period of Henry VIII's reign who are usually portrayed as sympathetic to the reader were now the villains; and, vice versa. Case in point Cromwell himself, who, if you believe everything you've probably read (or seen) where he makes an appearance, he was a truly evil, greedy, person who hated Thomas More (to some a saint) with a passion and did whatever he could to save his own grubby neck (which ultimately ended up parted with his head, anyway, but, that was several of Henry's wives past Anne Boleyn!) Even the ever creepy Duke of Norfolk (Anne's uncle) is viewed somewhat sympathetically.

Of course, Henry VIII comes across the same because only a dumb-dumb doesn't get that Henry VIII was, although at times a brilliant monarch, mostly an incredibly insecure man, a temperamental leader, self-centered, ego-centric and, as many of his loved ones found out at their expense, a fair-weathered friend.

I loved the fact that this tale centers smack on Cromwell; I'm not sure how much may have been true (other than what is in the record) and how much was made up, but, Cromwell was certainly a fascinating figure who played a fairly significant role in English history/the Tudor reign.

"Wolf Hall" (BTW, loved how the title finally made its way into the story at the very end) terminates while Anne still has a year or so more to live and Cromwell has several. Obviously, Mantel could continue her tale of Cromwell, and, yes, (my husband will be surprised to read this since he heard me griping abut Mantel's style for the month plus it took me to get through the book) but, I do believe I may actually read it!

A final note. I saw somewhere that another reader of this book said Cromwell's story would make a great miniseries. I agree; just, pray God, don't use that smarmy actor who played him in "The Tudors"!

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