VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew ,commissioned by the Hogarth Shakespeare project, is an outstanding true-to-the-spirit-of-things farce that is light, amusing and heart warming–all at the same time.  The author must have had fun writing it, and I certainly had fun reading it. Characters are excellently drawn and are much more than stereotypes or flat characters.

Of course if one is familiar with the Shakespeare play, the twists and turns are expected rather than unexpected, but the way Tyler arrives at them is original and very refreshingly creative.

The bard himself would give a Mona Lisa smile upon reading. One stayed on my face the entire time I spent on this quick and satisfying read.

PATHFINDERS by Aidan J. Reid

This 2016 publication is the debut novel of an up and coming Irish author, Aidan J. Reid.  It has everything a reader would want in action, suspense and interesting themes.

Lucid dreaming, the ability to enter one’s dreamstate and affect what is going on has interested psychologists for a while now, and is being used in therapy (by changing nightmares into dreams with positive, uplifting outcomes) today.

In this book, Breagal, a mysterious,strange librarian and Victor enter the dream mind of Victor’s friend Norman, who is comatose after a horrific auto accident. The question posed on the back cover is, “Can [they] search the deepest darkest recesses of Norman’s mind and rescue [him] before time runs out?”  Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, leaving the reader wondering, “How will they ever get out of this predicament?” Fortunately, the author assures us one CAN affect what happens next in a nightmare.

Creativity is rampant in this novel, and I am sure professors who one day assign this to their classes will discuss thoroughly the symbolism throughout, but for those of us who just love a “good read”, this novel “fills the bill” thoroughly.

I am anticipating a complete shift in gears and a respect for the author’s versatility in his latest (June 2016) release, Sigil.

THE CITY OF MIRRORS by Justin Cronin

This is the last book in Cronin’s trilogy, and it successfully and effectively sums up an impossible ending to write. Cronin’s trilogy includes: The Passage, The Twelve, The City of Mirrors.

Again,as in The Twelve, The City of Mirrors opens with a prologue that allows the reader to “plug in” anywhere along the trilogy. The Passage  at 800+ pages was a slow trudge, brutal at times but always intriguing as well as completely original.  The Twelve is not to be missed in its entirety. It is action-packed and violent, yet frequently poetically beautifully phrased.

City of Mirrors begins (spoiler alert) after the Twelve have been destroyed, and all we have left to deal with is Zero, the most impressive incarnation of Evil ever imagined by any author. “The Girl From Nowhere,” Amy, first seen in The Passage, is the Adversary for Good.

As the cover says, “One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.”

This book is well worth your reading time.

 

THE GIRL WHO WROTE LONLINESS by Kyung Sook Shin: A Review

I have been blogging more here of late because I have been finishing up several books, reading three or more at the same time. I found the Korean author, Kyung Sook Shin (translated into English by Ha-Yun Jung), purely by chance.  Her 2015 novel based on facts was on a large print display at my local library, and the artful cover intrigued me.

Themes dealt with in the novel include: hardships and poverty, desire for an education and bettering oneself and one’s lot in life, family loyalty, with touches of dealing with depression and loneliness.

A young girl is sent from her farm to Seul  to work in a sweatshop in the TV, stereo factories of the 1979’s.  She is trained for a conveyor- belt- assembly- line- job which is incredibly boring and physically punishing.  It is the times of unionizing factories in Seul and a story of  the persecution and horror the union members endured.  It is political, but told from the point of view of one who does not understand  what is taking place.

The word choices, phrasing, and writing in general, is poetic in places, often either brutal or beautiful.  It took me a few pages to get acclimated to the “voice” of the narrator because the grammar rules etc. followed Korean conventions. Like any book translated from another language, the novel has an initial moment of “getting used to.”  It is a wise investment of your reading time and carries you along with expert characterization and plot.

THE STORY OF CHARLOTTE’S WEB by Michael Sims : A Review

There are more recent biographies of E.B White, even a children’s version, but this one is the most complete. It includes the detailed story of how the children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web came to be written and published.  All the information came from huge research into the primary sources of White’s letters, trips and  to his childhood home, and interviews with many other researchers into the life and works of this wonderful man.

The details of White’s boyhood are fascinating and foreshadow many of the things that appear in Charlotte’s Web, but for me, when I hit the middle of the book, things got very interesting.  As a long time subscriber to the New Yorker magazine an  aficionado of all things journalistic, I could hardly put down the book’s description of White’s earliest publishing jobs, his romance and marriage to a famous New Yorker editor and the publication of his earliest columns.

The author knows his subject and it became apparent to me that only E.B. White and his experiences in life could have written Charlotte’s Web. The book was a wonderful read, a complete and encompassing exploration of all things E.B. White.

Review of Bill Bryson’s ONE SUMMER

Although this book was published in 2013, I’m just getting around to it.  I had read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid back at Christmas, then sent it on to my little brother who WAS the little boy growing up in the 1950’s.  He was kind enough to send me Bryson’s Road to Little Dribblings which was then on the best seller list to reciprocate.  I enjoyed both so much, I checked One Summer out of our Alvin library.

The book is the story of America during the summer of 1927, the year of Lucky Lindy’s trans-Atlantic flight.  It was also the beginning of Babe Ruth’s home run record which ended on the following September 30, 1927.  There are simply a plethora of interesting facts about that eventful summer, and Bryson includes them all.

Told in typical Bill Bryson’s style–humorous, detailed, and always readable–the book includes the “summer’s personalities” and exciting events. In places the writing and the events are “weird,” but isn’t that what we have come to expect from Bryson? One reviewer labelled the book, “narrative fiction of the highest order,” which it is, but above all, it is a darned good read.

Review of Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

As advertised on the cover, Call the Midwife is “a memoir of birth, joy, and hard times.” As a fan of the PBS series since its inception, I hesitated to read the original journal on which this true story is built.  After all, you can’t improve on perfection, can you?  Maybe you can.

The three books were “assigned” at our Third Tuesday Book Club at the Alvin, TX ,public library. I volunteered to read the first book, to be sure someone had read each of the three books in the set. I was surprised at the amount of “extra” material that was not detailed in the PBS series.  The history of British Midwifery in the introduction was instructive, and the writer’s stories/anecdotes were “better than TV.”

Some of the details were graphic, and in a few cases, I preferred the “cleaned up” version I had seen on TV.  There is humor, tragedy, great joy, and proves the saying, “Every child is a gift from God.” I will probably skip the second book which deals with the Workhouse,  but I will definitely read the third book, which has a lot of humor as society “progresses” into the sixties, a nostalgic time for me.

Recent “Reads”

Recently I read several books that were recommended to me by reading friends.  Here is a review of one of them:

IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYAN by Vaddey Ratner, a novel which earned 41/2 stars on Amazon.  The story is told by Rami, the 7 year old narrator (whose experiences  are based on those of the author of the book). The story takes place during Cambodia’s civil wars and “killing fields era”, approximately 1975-1979.

The author has a definite “gift for language” as one critic noted. Her writing is often pure poetry, especially in her descriptive passages. The reader feels she is in the time and place and is experiencing what the protagonist is experiencing.

It is “a story of survival, a story of horror and beauty, all at the same time.” It was a wonderful read which I could not put down. It would make a good book-club-read.

 

 

Review of All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I must confess straight out that it took me three attempts to successfully finish this novel. The first time, I was teaching and had precious little reading time, and allowed a book club friend who gave up to influence me, and I did the same after reading six or eight chapters.

During the Christmas break, I checked it out from the Alvin library again and immediately was engaged by the main characters, who are skillfully drawn. One is  a blind French girl of superb intelligence and perception who is being raised by her museum curator father on his own. One is immediately drawn to MarieLaure, cares about her ,and appreciates the loving relationship she and her father have.

The second character (most of the book has a chapter about her, one about him, the next about her, etc.), Werner, is a German orphan who is skilled and totally self taught in electronics.  His fascination is with the new invention, the radio.  When he reaches 10 or 12, he is told the Fuhueer needs his skills and is absorbed by a rigorous training program for elite “Hitler Youth”.

No, the two do not meet until the very end of the book, and the outcome is definitely NOT what the reader expects.

The writing is amazing, poetic ,yet flowing at the same time, but it is extremely detailed, and once again, I quit.

After the book had been on the New York Times Best Seller List and had a spike at Christmas when many people gave it to someone as a gift, I decided there “must be something to this book” and checked it out for a final time.

By now, WWII was ending, Marie was in a tiny town where her eccentric and mentally disturbed (thanks to WWI) uncle lived, and her father was in prison.  From the last 1/3 of the book, it became the most suspenseful book I have ever read!

Take a look at this random excerpt: (I literally opened the last 1/4 at random and pointed a finger and copied…)

“…the voices stop. She can hear (remember Marie Laure is blind)a scuffle and then a shot comes…

Footsteps hurry across the landing and enter the room.  There is a splash and a hiss, and she smells smoke and steam…

She can hear…as he runs his fingers along the back of the wardrobe (where she is hiding).  She tightens her grip on the handle of the knife.”

One last word that must be added.  The book is definitely of literary quality in the truest sense of literature.  (As a lit major in my graduate studies, I feel qualified to paste that label on this novel.)

I am so glad I finished this book.  It is the best, bar none, book I have read (or finished, technically)in 2016 so far.

 

 

 

Review of The Cradle by Patrick Sommerville

This novel was recommended as “a novel that comforts,” and it certainly lives up to that.  The Chicago author, with a reputation as a short story writer, tries his hand with his debut novel.  I love “collecting” debut novels and was able to find this 2009 publication at 1/2 Price Books.

Any author who selects his idea/title from the beginning of a Walt Whitman poem already earns an “excellent” rating as far as I’m concerned.

And then, the “read” itself…mystery,real love, trying times, and the quest/journey to find the cradle are handled well. What “happens” in the novel is unpredictable and avoids being “formulaic.”  The author keeps his reader turning the pages with expectation and curiosity to see what happens next. Secrets are revealed, interesting people make appearances, and “connections” and serendipity abound.  It is a good “read.”

I give the novel a 4 1/2 out of 5 for its ingenuity and the way the reader feels when she finishes it.