Saturday, September 10, 2011

52 Books in 52 Weeks - #4

Well we're on to group number three. I've come to the conclusion that I'd either better start reading faster or start putting more posts in between book reviews or we're quickly going to have a stagnation in material. That could be a problem. Long story short, I'm pretty sure there will be more in between posts.

If you're just now joining the fun, our two semi-finalists thus far are:

House Rules by Jodi Picoult


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Today's contestants? I'm glad you asked.

1. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
2. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
4. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares
5. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

I'm warning you. I'm feeling a little snarky today so this might get interesting. Also, although I already know who wins this round I will let you know that this was another somewhat difficult week. I guess that's what I get for picking darned good books to read...most of the time.

1. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Finished : April 16. Rating : 5/5 stars. Award : Best Interwoven Plots

In 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his own child due to hazardous travel conditions caused by a blizzard. He delivers a healthy boy, only to discover that his wife is in labor with twins. The second child is a girl. He immediately realizes that his daughter is not "normal", but instead has obvious indications of Down Syndrome. His wife, Norah is sedated from the delivery and unaware of the children. He decides that caring for a handicapped child would be too much for them to handle, so instead talks his nurse, Caroline into driving the infant to an institution. He plans to tell his wife that the child died at birth.

Caroline is immediately conflicted, but drives the baby as instructed. When she arrives at the institution she is unable to leave her there, deciding instead to keep the child as her own. She hastily leaves town and moves to another city to avoid the judgment, questions and investigations that could result from being a single woman who suddenly has an infant.

The remainder of the novel tells the story of the two families simultaneously living separate lives. Norah is overcome by depression and carries the grief of her daughter's death for many years. As a result, her marriage to David becomes rocky and she neglects properly raising the son she still has.

Caroline raises Phoebe in a happy home with encouragement and love, just as if she had been her biological daughter. To Caroline, there is no difference. Phoebe thrives and grows with the love she is given, becoming a well-adjusted young woman.

Though David never intended his wife to know of his daughter, the two stories are bound to intersect.

I loved this book. Though the storyline was sometimes difficult to stomach, it is very beautifully written. The characters are extremely well developed and the book easily reads as a memoir rather than a fictional story.

I hated David from about page five, though I somewhat understood his motives. In the 1960's things were different and it may have been difficult to raise a child who required additional care. Institutions were frequently used by families of children with disabilities. However, I could not reconcile myself with the fact that he gave up his own daughter so easily. He may have shown regret in some ways over the years, but it could never make up for the fact that he gave her away simply to keep from burdening himself. In turn, he instead managed to burden his wife with emotionally crippling baggage.

I found a high respect for Caroline. She was extraordinarily brave not only to take on a child on her own, but for undertaking a task that in the social standards of the day was only minimally accepted. Being the single parent of a handicapped child made her life very challenging, but she always expressed such joy in the life that Phoebe brought her.

I just plain felt sorry for Norah. She let her grief over a lost child haunt her to the point that she missed all of the happiness she could have gained from the child who survived. Paul is left without a real mother. With the amount of care that Norah could be capable of, her life could have been wonderful and her relationship with Paul could have been meaningful and rewarding. She failed to see the bright side of the situation - even many years later.

The story fits well in it's time period and there are many little details that show that the author did her research. I couldn't put this book down and became emotionally invested in the story within a few pages.

2. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Finished : April 22. Rating : 5/5 Stars. Award : Best Love Story.

The best way to start describing this book is straight from the jacket. "When Henry meets Clare, he is twenty-eight and she is twenty. Henry has never met Clare before; Clare has known Henry since she was six." If you had no title to go off of, this would make absolutely no sense. But think about it for a few minutes and it comes into focus.

Henry is a time traveler, a trait he developed as a child and has no control over. He is unable to control when he travels or what time period he travels to. He is unable to control when he returns. He is pulled into random points in time with only moments of advanced notice. He just gets a "feeling" that he might leave and then he's gone. Henry moves back and forth from past, to present, to future.

Clare meets him as a child and begins to fall in love with him as he reappears for her several times over the following years. Henry falls for Clare just as easily upon meeting her when he is twenty-eight.

Though Henry's time travel make a normal life impossible, the bond between them is so strong that their love, for lack of a better term, transcends time. It is a moving and passionate relationship.

Ok. First of all, I have to give props to this author's name. How fun is that to say? (And as a side note, that only makes me think of Elf. 'Fran-CIS-co. That's fun to say.') I will tell you this, I never forget it. You ask me who wrote this book? Bang. Niffenegger. Done. Second, I had seen the movie before I read the book, so I did somewhat know what I was in for. You can call it cheating if you like, but in my defense it had been a couple of years and my memory is really quite awful so all I had were hazy generalities. I remembered really enjoying the book and I remembered loving Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. (Who wouldn't love Eric Bana? Ah, happiness.) That is more or less the jist of what I remembered at the time.

I loved, loved, LOVED this book. I would read it over and over again. When I originally saw the movie, I had no idea that it was based on a book. I found out by finding this on my infamous Facebook novel list - you know you want a copy. I was nervous at first that having seen the movie would ruin my experience with the book, as has often happened in the past. I quickly found that that was not going to be the case. The writing was amazing and I completely fell in love with the characters and story line. I didn't want the book to end. In fact, I could easily go for a sequel. (Hint, hint Ms. Niffenegger. - I really only wrote that so I could get her name in here one more time. It really is fun to say.)

3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Finished : April 26. Rating : 3/5 Stars. Award : Creepiest College Kids

In the first few pages of this novel, it is established that the main character, Richard Papen, and his friends have killed one of their peers. How many books do that?! The remainder of the book chronicles the events that lead up to this death and what occurred once the deed was done.

Richard is a college student who leaves his California home for a prestigious college in Vermont. He does not come from wealth, but he pretends to be in order to try and fit in. He becomes friends with a group of "advanced" students who attend an Ancient Greek class taught by professor Julian Morrow. The class is taught somewhat off the grid as Julian is allowed more or less free range to teach as he pleases. Julian's students are just as eccentric as he appears to be.

The five students include twins Camilla and Charles, Francis, Henry, and the even more odd Edward "Bunny" Corcoran. As Richard is getting to know them he comes to hear of an incident they had in the woods while staying at Francis's family estate. He is not initially given any details, but the relationships between the members of the group continue to grow stranger as the winter break approaches. Henry and Bunny leave for Europe together - even though Henry appears to barely tolerate Bunny. It is also obvious that Bunny can in no way afford the trip and must be getting bankrolled by Henry. Why would Henry be so nice to someone he very nearly despises?

Richard's suspicions grow when he is rescued by Henry from certain death and notes Henry's increasingly odd behavior - drinking to oblivion, spending hours hiding out in the dark. He comes to learn from Henry and Francis that the group (minus Richard and Bunny) were in the midst of some mystical ancient rite when a rather horrible murder of a stranger occurred. The remainder of the book follows the complete unraveling of the characters due to repercussions from the event.

This was an odd book. All in all, I guess I'm glad I stuck it out. For the first thirty or so pages the writing came off as too pompous and I thought for sure it would be a dry and boring story. I very nearly stopped reading. To put it bluntly, Richard was making a complete fool of himself. It was very obvious that he was faking the affluent lifestyle. I couldn't understand why he couldn't just relax and be real. His fake character was driving me up a wall.

The writing style then seemed to shift slightly, as if the he was growing more comfortable with the audience. At this point I was able to get involved with the plot rather than feeling like I had to find the definition for a word on every page. Nothing makes me want to get rid of a book faster than having it make me feel dumb. My urge to slap Richard dwindled.

Still, the characters quite honestly irritated me. Richard seemed to try too hard to get everyone to like him and never seemed comfortable enough in his own skin to just be himself rather than constantly putting on some kind of show for those around him. Charles was just a plain jerk, abusive and narcissistic. Camilla, though somewhat likable, just comes off as a weak female - more or less a token female in the group and only thrown in by the author to add some semblance of gender balance. Henry is a lush and Francis is melodramatic.

Bunny is just plain psychotic. He bothered me from he very beginning. First of all - what grown man allows himself to be called by the name Bunny? He is weird. There is no other way to say it. He makes odd comments and does things in ways that make no rational sense. Beyond that he appears to be nothing more than a mooch. He doesn't seem to be genuinely interested in anyone else in the group and simply seems to be there in order to see what he can get out of the situation.

I really just wanted to slap the characters on a regular basis. The irritation I found with them simply ruined the rest of the story for me. I suppose that should indicate that the author created very powerful characters in her writing. I really didn't care. The plot was written rather well with regard to remaining suspenseful despite technically giving away the ending on the first page. This is probably the only thing that kept me reading and I have to give the author credit for that. But...that being said, I wouldn't choose to read this book again. I can't say that of many I've read thus far this year. Now that I'm looking back, I'm not sure it really deserves a 3/5 star rating. I think I was being too nice. A 2 may have been more appropriate.

4. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

Finished : April 27. Rating : 4/5 stars. Award : Most Irritating Ending

Daniel has lived many lives, nearly always resulting in his love affair with the same girl. Daniel has the incredible gift of remembering his past through subsequent lives. The girl he loves does not share the same ability. Sophia is the name that he refers to her by, though her name has changed many times.

Thus far, Daniel has been unable to fully experience the relationship he longs for with Sophia. He struggles in every life to find her - she not only changes name, but also never looks the same - and then they are frequently separated by some terrible event or circumstance.

Sophia is now Lucy. She has begun to remember pieces of her own history and starts to understand why she is so drawn to Daniel. Just as she begins to open her eyes to the past they have shared, the destructive force that has separated them so many times before threatens their love once again.

This was a very quick and easy read. I read it completely in just one day. I stayed up late to finish it because I just couldn't put it down. It was that good.

I love Ann Brashares. I've read her Traveling Pants series and was a big fan. Though it is young adult fiction, I still enjoy reading her books. I was a little worried that the plot line of reincarnation would come off as too fantasy based, but I have to admit that she made it work.

My biggest complaint about this book was the ending. It was left as too much of a cliffhanger. As I read, there was no indication on the cover or at the end of the book as to whether there would be a sequel. I was really upset at the ending and nearly threw the book across the room. It was so good...why would she leave it that way?!?! Cooler heads prevailed and I got myself under control. A little research on the internet revealed that this is the first in a trilogy that she has planned. Umm...that would've been nice to know in the beginning. I also discovered in the comments section of Goodreads that there are quite a few readers who had the same frustrating experience I did.

My recommendation? Read the book. But maybe wait until the sequel is out or closer to coming out. I was incredibly frustrated to walk away from it where it ended.

5. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute.

Finished : April 29. Rating : 4/5 Stars. Award : Best Foreign Land

The story is narrated by British attorney Noel Strachan. He tells the story of Jean Paget, a young woman working as a secretary in a shoe factory. She comes into an inheritance as the result of the death of an unknown uncle. Mr. Strachan is the trustee of her account.

Jean decides to take some of her funds to build a well in a Malayan village. Noel then goes on to tell Jean's history and the reason for her desire to complete this endeavor.

During World War II, Jean is working in Malaya when it is invaded by the Japanese. She is taken prisoner along with a small group of women and children. She is forced on a death march by the Japanese soldiers, marching many miles a day with little food or water. She becomes more or less the group leader as she is the only one who fluently speaks Malay and does her best to try and keep everyone alive.

During the ordeal, she also meets Australian soldier, Joe Harman, who is also a prisoner of the Japanese. Joe works to help provide food for Jean and her companions by stealing from their Japanese captors. As a result, he is caught and disappears. Jean does not see him again. Shortly thereafter, Jean is rescued by some Malay villagers.

The narration then turns to Jean's time working to build the well six years later. She feels indebted for their help and wishes to help the women of the village by supplying a closer water source. It is during this return to Malaya that she learns that Joe has actually survived the war and has returned to his native Australia. She resolves to find him again and journeys to Australia herself.

The historical detail of this book is what held my attention the greatest. Though the plot flowed smoothly and the characters were well written and likable, I enjoyed all of the little additional bits of information that were added to make the story more realistic.

Though the plot was actually quite different, I found myself somewhat identifying this book with the movie Australia. The vernacular of the Australians took a little getting used to, but kept things light and easy.

I read this book very quickly and had a hard time putting it down. I take that as a sign of a pretty darned good book. I wouldn't mind reading this one over and over again.

And with that we have made it through another five. There were some good books in this group, but I think by my reviews it is probably pretty obvious which book I have chosen to move forward into the semifinals. So...without further adieu...the winner is...The Time Traveler's Wife by (who else?) Audrey Niffenegger. And no, I didn't pick it just so I could put her name down again. (Though I will tell you, I am thrilled to know that I will get the chance to use it again. I'm easily entertained.)


Post a Comment

Other Posts You Might LIke

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
01 09 10 11 12
Blogging tips