Wednesday, October 26, 2011

52 Books in 52 Weeks - #6

A bit of a late post due to issues with my blog layout, but a post nonetheless...

It's been a busy couple of weeks and projects have taken up some of my reading time. But I'm still hanging in there! I am currently 2 books behind for my goal of 52 books in the year and am currently reading book #41, Mercy by Jodi Picoult. I think I'll have it finished by tomorrow night.

The 4th spot in the bracket is up for grabs today so let's get started and see what fun stuff I read in the spring...

Today's books are :

1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

2. Mary: Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George

3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

5. The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald

1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Finished : May 29          Rating : 3 out of 5 stars         Award: Most Dysfunctional Family
The Poisonwood Bible follows the Price family as they serve as missionaries in the Belgian Congo in the midst of political upheaval. Nathan Price is a hard headed and stern man who unequivocally rules his family. He is obstinate and unwavering. Though he meets opposition from the members of the tribe where they are staying, he continues to push baptism and conversion without any attempt to understand their culture. They resist his preaching due to some circumstances that could have been avoided by Nathan having simply conversed properly with the people to determine why they felt uneasy. However, he continuously sees himself as better than the natives and refuses to back down on his own ways of doing things. Nathan was a character that I found it very easy to hate.

His wife, Orleanna is meek and obedient to her husband, though within her lies a desire to be free of him. Orleanna is increasingly uncomfortable as the story goes on and begins to develop a bit of individualism and forthrightness. She is constantly oppressed by Nathan's control and household power. She is still very much the obedient housewife, catering to her husband's every whim, but a small glimmer of spunk lies beneath the surface.

His daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May each take turns narrating the story along with their mother. Each has their own point of view regarding the situation they are in.

Rachel is very vain and self-centered, working only with a purpose that will serve herself. She is a pretty girl, but lets that beauty go to her head and misses out on many opportunites due to her stubbornness and conceit.

Leah is very open minded, reaching out to the natives with little prejudice and a desire to truly know them. Leah was my favorite character of the book. She is friendly and outgoing and does her best to attempt to blend with the community. She tries to make friends and to get to know the villagers for who they are rather for who her father wishes them to be.

Adah, who is Leah's twin, is about as far from Leah as you can get. Adah is a loner and very cynical about most things. She is highly intelligent, but has hidden this from her family as she is perceived to be mentally handicapped due to a birth defect that left her with a limp. Oddly, it seems that her family never made an effort to test the theory. Adah is very quirky, obsessed with backwards reading and writing, showing some signs of brilliance along with her eccentricity.

Ruth May is the baby of the family. Ruth May is a sweet and innocent youth who is full of energy and curiosity about the world around her. The chapters narrated by Ruth May are very childlike and innocent, full of wonder of her surroundings.

The family is terribly unprepared for the living conditions they find themselves in. The Prices appear to be typical Americans (spoiled by convenience) and they have not appeared to have considered the climate or the economic state of the area they were travelling to. Their preparations have been minimal, pushed only by Nathan's strong desire to preach the word of God.

This book was very much a mixed bag for me. I had absolutely no knowledge of the history of the Congo prior to reading this book. Learning about the historical events (though somewhat altered in order to adhere to a fictional story) was quite intriguing for me.

As far as the reading goes, it took me a little work to get into the story. I found it especially hard to read the chapters written by Adah as she frequently writes in mirror. This tendency lead to a frequent loss of focus and I found that chapters narrated by Adah were often the places where I put the book down for a while.

Once I was able to get into the story (and somewhat ignore Adah's odd writing) the pages went fairly quickly and I was able to form an attachment to some of the characters.

2. Mary: Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George

Finished : May 29          Rating : 3 out of 5 stars          Award : Most Long-Winded.

Margaret George has written a thorough and very lengthy account of the life of Mary Stuart.  The story follows Mary throughout her lifetime. She is crowned as queen of Scotland at the age of nine months. She is then sent to France at the age of seven to be betrothed to a French prince at age sixteen. After the death of her husband, Mary returns home as the dowager queen of France and the acting queen of Scotland. But some of her citizens do not wish to see her on the throne and don't view her as a true citizen of Scotland as she has been away in France for so long. They feel she has lost touch with her Scottish heritage. There is both political and religious unrest at work in the country and the turmoil eventually leads to a civil war and Mary's exile to England as her country is overthrown. She is betrayed by her countrymen on numerous occasions and yet continues to pursue the right to the crown she sees to be hers.

I truly do enjoy historical fiction, but I admit that I had some difficulty with this book. While the story is good and the historical details are well written, I kept myself from giving this book four stars simply because of the length. While there was quite a bit of time to cover during the duration of Queen Mary's life, there were sections that were highly superfluous and added nothing to the story. Had they been pertinent issues then I don't think the length would have been a problem. The book could definitely have done with a bit more editing. Out of the over 800 pages, I would dare say that at least 100 of them could have been eliminated without having any effect on the book as a whole. That being said, the writing is very easy to read and the story does flow well. It did, for the most part, retain my attention. I would definitely read other books by this author...I'm just hoping that her other novels show more restraint in timeline detail.

3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Finished : July 17.          Rating : 3 out of 5 stars.          Award : Most Distracted Plot

Les Miserables tells the tale of Jean Valjean, a French peasant who is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nieces and nephews only to be thrown in jail for an extraordinarily long sentence (nineteen years!!). Upon his release he finds little acceptance within revolutionary France and he is often cast out due to his criminal past.

As he travels, he makes amends to live a life without crime, yet he steals a 40 sous coin from a boy without realizing until later what he has done. He attempts to return the money to the child, but the damage has already been done -- Jean Valjean is on the run again.

He changes his name to Monsieur Madeleine and becomes a wealthy factory owner. He employs a young woman named Fantine, who has left her child Cosette in the care of a the family Thenardier as she is unable to support the child on her own.  The Thenardiers are owners of an inn and they are terribly corrupt and cruel. They use the money provided to them by Fantine for their own purposes and treat Cosette as a slave.

Cosette's status as a child out of wedlock is discovered and Fantine is fired from her job at the factory. Unable to find appropriate work, Fantine turns to prostitution and eventually finds herself so terribly in debt that she sells off everything she has, including her two front teeth, in order to provide the money that the Thenardiers demand for Cosette's care.

Paths cross and Jean Valjean ultimately feels himself responsible for Cosette following Fantine's death. He seeks out the little girl and attempts to avoid the detection of his own identity. He is followed relentlessly by Javert, an officer from the town where Jean Vajean posed as Monsieur Madeleine. Javert is suspicious of Monsieur Madeleine and seeks to prove that his is a criminal as well as to bring him to justice for his crimes.

I have been in love with this story forever, as I had been previously exposed to the musical version of the book. I decided I should give the real thing a try. Unfortunately, this book took me FOREVER to read. I loved the story, but it frequently felt as though I were reading two separate books. Mr. Hugo has a tendency to think that the reader needs to understand the entire history of France in order to follow the plot of his novel. I assure you that this is not so. While I'm sure the history of France is an interesting subject, it was not the topic I was looking for. If I wished to understand the entire history of France then I would have read a book on the history of France. I found his side trips to be distracting to the story and frustrating to me as a reader.

Honestly, I started to skip pages in these sections because they had little to no effect on my understanding or appreciation of the novel. Had these portions not been present, I honestly would've probably given the book five stars. Victor Hugo is an excellent writer. I love his attention to detail and his development of the character of Jean Valjean. Despite the constant diversion from the topic at hand, I still found this book to be a good read.

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Finished : July 20          Rating : 3 out of 5 stars.          Award : Most Undeserving Classic

Holden Caulfield is a sixteen year old boy in New York City. He is a troubled youth and leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania after being dismissed for poor academic performance. He doesn't wish to alarm his family regarding his expulsion and so, instead of going home, decides to return only when he would normally have been released for break and chooses instead to run rampant in the New York underground for three days.

His is a typical story of teenage angst, the desire to be an individual and not having to conform while still remaining a desirable individual within society. Holden feels terribly out of place and frustrated with those around him for being what he considers to be "phony". His relationship with his family is an awkward one, disrupted primarily by the death of his brother, Allie. While he is unable to connect to his parents, he feels a strong level of devotion to his younger sister, Phoebe who has great admiration for Holden and sees him as a role model.

I will give it this...this book is an easy read. But I have to admit, I'm still trying to figure out why it is considered such a classic. It's not a bad book, I just didn't necessarily find it riveting. I finished it in two days and actually had to check online at SparkNotes to make sure I didn't miss something, as I was slightly dumbfounded when I was done. Turns out that I followed the plot just fine and understood everything that was going on.  Maybe I'm just a simpleton or maybe I set my standards too high, but I left this book feeling rather unimpressed for the hype it has received.  I question whether this is purely because the subject material has become so commonplace in today's society. Teenage rebellion and wanderlust are frequently discussed topics in mainstream media. Perhaps that wasn't nearly the case at the time this book was originally released.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Finished : July 25.          Rating : 4 out of 5 stars.          Award : Easiest Read

Nick Carraway finds himself living next door to Jay Gatsby for a summer. Gatsby is known widely for his continuous and impressive parties. His parties are the place to be. But Gatsby himself is unhappy with his situation. His only desire is the love of Daisy Buchanan, Nick's cousin and - to Gatsby - the girl who got away. Gatsby and Daisy were together once as a couple, but Gatsby went off to war and while he is away, Daisy is married to the hot-headed Tom Buchanan.

Gatsby has purchased his home in West Egg simply because it stands across the water from where Daisy resides with her husband Tom in East Egg. He is determined to win her back through displays of his wealth and affection - with the assistance of Nick.

I had actually read this book once before...WAY back in high school. But I had forgotten the whole story and decided to read it again. I admit that I like how easy this book is to read. It starts off feeling like it is going to be superficial and boring - just a journal of the neighbor's raucous parties. However, the characters quickly begin to mesh and the story starts to flow nice and easy.  The pace was comforting without being boring and it was descriptive without being overly assaulting.

...and the winner is...

Well, with ratings like that I guess this one won't be much of a surprise. The Great Gatsby will take the next slot in the bracket.

And I'm off to read more of Mercy. Though there are no photo updates of the Halloween projects  I was able to nearly complete the Jake bag today and I will have a surprise for you in tomorrow's post. It's fabulous! Plus it comes with a video, so that's always fun!


  1. I'm currently reading Jane Eyre but I'm concerned about the ending. I'm in the last legs of the story and I'm really not liking what's left for 'love prospects'. The story is going to have to do some more convincing before I feel happy with either option she chooses. The story line is fabulous though!

  2. Yeah, I think Catcher in the Rye was revolutionary for the time, but there are A LOT of books that have copied it, so much so that it seems a little simple now. But when I read it (twenty years ago? that can't be right...oh, it's right), it felt totally revolutionary. The only other book I've read is the Great Gatsby, but I had to read it in English class, so my hatred for it is probably undeserved.

  3. Well guess is validated. I do find that required reading takes a bite out of the interest in some books. I will tell you that I have no desire to ever attempt to finish War and Peace again.

  4. @Padded Cell Princess I've found that I have to be in the right mood to read Jane Eyre. If I'm not then I just get bored with it.


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