Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: June

Man, I'm WAY behind here! We've just selected the books we'll read in book club for this year and I'm not done reviewing LAST year's.
Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss (Book Club Selection): Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
Since I was the one who suggested this book for my book club, I REALLY wanted to like it. Also, ever since I was a child, I have had an odd fascination with "freaks". Yes, I was drawn to the freak shows at state fairs (never did see anything overly freaky, or legitimately freaky, anyway). Finally, my step mom's book club read this and, according to her, it generated a goodly degree of interest, debate and discussion.

I must say, I was disappointed in how Strauss tackled this fictionalized account of the twins. It fell flat. No one in the book was likable in the least, including Eng, the twin whom Strauss picked to narrate the story because he felt Eng "might offer a more interesting perspective of their twinship". Well, he didn't. Frankly, Strauss would have been better off letting Chang take the helm. He was at least slightly more likable than Eng (even if it was only because I felt sorry for him).

In our discussion, we decided that, instead of (needlessly) going back and forth between the twins earlier life and the "current day" in North Carolina, Strauss should have alternated the telling of the story between Chang and Eng.

Still, with Strauss's fairly piss poor writing, choice of direction and skimpy character development, it probably wouldn't have mattered overly much WHO narrated the story.

I give the book a 2, mostly because of Strauss. Ok, all because of Strauss. I still would give Chang and Eng themselves a much higher rating. I'm going to continue to give them the benefit of the doubt for having been decent people!

In researching a bit about the book for the meeting, I discovered that Gary Oldman is working with Strauss to make a film based on the book. This could either be really interesting good/or a complete flop. Also, Mark Twain wrote a small, extremely amusing tongue in cheek piece on the twins back in the late 1800s. And, someone in Durham made a documentary about Chang and Eng (we watched parts of it in book club); some of it was informative, a lot of it was just plain weird.

In any event, the book DID fulfill one of my wishes. It generated quite a bit of discussion, including speculation on who they'll get to portray the twins in Oldman's movie!

Embers by Sandor Marai: Solid/Good/3 Stars
Beautifully written (and, I surmise, translated). But, oh so boring. I know, that is likely an oxy moron.

Two old friends, who haven't seen one another for 41 years, sit in an old house in the forest one evening eating dinner and talking.

Yep, that's the whole story.

Seriously, the book delves into topics of friendship, love, betrayal, and the incessant need for seeking out the truth.

Perhaps I would have found it more intriguing had it not been so bloody hot when I was reading. My mind wants fluff.

I'm holding on to the book and will read it again (it is a short 213 pages) when it is cold and snowy out; I think I will appreciate it more under those circumstances.

So, in due fairness, I am giving it a 3 for now; said rating my go up (or down) after I re-read it!

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (CD): Totally Awesome/5 Stars
US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his (recently assigned) partner Chuck Aule are sent to Shutter Island (near Boston) which houses a prison/hospital for the more than criminally insane. The purpose of their visit is to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of the more seriously deranged female patients; a disappearance that seems entirely implausible given how closely she was supposedly guarded.

As Teddy and Chuck delve into the case, a hurricane hits the island causing them to be, in essence, shut off from the mainland. As the days pass, it becomes quite apparent to Teddy that things are not as they seem, and, perhaps, there is something very sinister being conducted on the patients on Shutter Island. As he tries to piece together the missing prisoner case, he is hampered by uncooperative staff and doctors, a barrage of migraines, bad dreams, and relentless memories of his beloved dead wife. Yet Teddy also harbors an ulterior motive for being assigned to the case; he suspects that the man who set the fire that killed his wife in their apartment is now a patient/prisoner on the island.

Then, the missing patient shows up, his partner goes missing, and the story becomes totally enthralling; complete with several mind-blowing plot twists and turns.

I listened to this on CD and found myself driving around longer than I needed to so I could keep listening! I know some of the psychological aspects of the book are likely implausible, but, still, I found this so interesting, entertaining and surprising that I might even go back and read it again, especially since now I know the ending (think "Sixth Sense") and will have fun looking for the clues throughout the book that can only be appreciated in retrospect.

This is the first Lehane novel I've read. I have seen the movie adaptations of both "Mystic River" and "Gone, Baby, Gone" and now am pumped to see "Shutter Island". I'll also likely read all of Lehane's novels!

We rented "Shutter Island" and, although not quite as good as the book, it was certainly good enough.

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