RED Shack...Warning! SPOILERS! Don't read if you don't want to know the end.

This is my personal reading blog. Complete with spoilers. Currently reading: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Friday, August 26, 2005

Wedding Ring by Emilie Richards

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I could have had I not recently read Kristin Hannah's Things We Do For Love. There are several similarities, even though the settings are on opposite sides of the US coast. Namely: woman whose daughter has died is having marriage troubles and escapes to the women in her family for support and learning, and also meets a girl who is having her own baby.

I enjoyed the book, I did...but it was a little boring at times for me. Maybe because of the aforementioned similaries with another book.

Wedding Ring is set in the Shenandoah Valley, mostly in the old farmhouse of Helen Henry, a reclusive old woman who has lost nearly everyone in her life. Tessa MacRae and her mother, Nancy Whitlock, have come to spend the summer helping Helen get back a semi-normal life. In the end, they end up sharing lots of stories, many brought about by the quilts that Helen has made over the years. The climax is a quilt display at the local church where Helen is honored. Of course, feelings are rekindled between Tessa and her husband, as well as Nancy and her husband. The story centers around Helen's wedding ring quilt, and in the end it is given to Cissy, the girl next door who gets married at the end of the book.

Things I liked: Helen's character...the author made it really believable how a woman could become the way Helen is, and I like the way she's portrayed - I enjoyed reading about her stubbornness and finding out her reasons for being that way. I also enjoyed details about the quilts. Every story needs something central to it, and I thought the quilts were cool, even though I know nothing about quilting. I loved Kayley's quilt...very cute. The opening scene is a winner, for sure. My favorite scene was Nancy's story about being in the Whitlock home while Billy is still trying to finish school...the scene was very rich for me.

Things I disliked: From the beginning, I had a problem with the dialogue. Something about it is unnatural. I can't really explain this, it's just my own personal reaction to the writing. I'm also starting to get really tired of setting/weather descriptions; I found myself glazing over every time the 'much need rain' was mentioned. I had a little trouble with Tessa's character: she is so unyielding, but at the end when she realizes Robert was not drunk driving but taking his mother to the hospital, she somehow is able to put away her need for revenge. Wouldn't she have known beforehand that he probably dreamt about her daughter every night? I supposed it's probably from the theme similarities that I mentioned before, but I'm getting a little tired of the whole "the kid died" tragedy that makes women run to the other women in their lives, and therefore learn much more about themselves and their mothers/grandmothers.

I suppose I have more complaints than compliments for this book, partly because I really did find it a little...sleepy. But overall, it was a pretty decent read. I think I'll just move on from the "women getting back to the family after death and grieving and having problems with their husbands" theme...two books so similar have turned me off to that for a while.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Several books....Stephanie Plum and Nancy Harmon

I've read several books since my last post:

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich
Where are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

I've also been rereading The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah.

Comments on the Stephanie Plum novels by Evanovich:

I loved reading these books. I loved the first more than the second, possibly for the sheer novelty of it. I love the first-person voice, I love the fact that the narrator has a hamster. By the end of the second book, I have to admit I was a little tired of Mr. Joe Morelli. He always shows up at the perfect time, and it sometimes gets a little annoying. Maybe I just feel that his character is too cliche. Whereas, while Stephanie Plum may fit some stereotypes, her character is not cliche at all. I also enjoy reading Stephanie's descriptions of the New Jersey setting. I've tentatively started the third book, but not completely. Am I afraid that once I get into it, I won't be able to put it down? Perhaps. I shall start reading it early in the day.

One more comment: I'm really not all that familiar to the 'mystery''s a little embarrassing to admit! I'm interested now to read some books in the genre that are older, more classic. Though this series, started in 1995, seems to be a modern classic.

Comments on Where Are the Children? by Higgins Clark

I appreciated this book more after I was finished with it. It was published in 1975, and this fact is extremely obvious to me. The repetitive use of the word "must" was especially vexing to my modern day reader-mind. But, that's the sort of stuff you note once and then read through the rest of the book, trying not to let it bother you.

The thing I notice most about this book is that it is incredibly tightly written. (later: now I remember one chapter was so full of...ellipses...I almost got...nauseous) There are several viewpoints, even over halfway through the book (I'd have to double-check that but I'm pretty sure) we're still getting introduced to new characters with new viewpoints that add to the reader's knowledge and suspense. The novel takes place over the course of one day, and manages to convey so much information that I'm left thinking, Wow. She's good. Yes, I really was mentally screaming at the characters, "No, you didn't kick that glove out of your car!" "You'd better talk to those people in the waiting room!" ...even though I knew (by a bad habit of wanting to always know the last line before or soon after I begin reading the book) that the children would be okay. Well, just another note: the chapters are extremely short.

But, still...I don't know that I liked the actual story that much. Is it wrong to say, I liked the way the story was written, the tightness of it, the way the plot unfolded, but I didn't quite like the story itself? I don't know if it's entirely possible, but it's a little like the way I feel about this book. Maybe this is just the difference between the impact of an idea in 1975 and 2005, but I felt that the themes - incest, child abuse - are used for the pure shock of them. In other words, it's almost as if they are being exploited because the author knew, absolutely knew, that the vast majority of readers would be instantly engaged because of the moral necessity of it. But, that's part of what makes it a classic book, I suppose. You can't fault the writer for wanting to write something that would make a lot of people invest their emotions in the work. Isn't that the point?

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Favorite things about this book: the theme, the 'feeling' created by Atwood's prose and the subject. Characterization of the Commander, Serena, Moira, the various handmaids, I thought was done very well. I was transplanted into another world, one that I will be imagining a long time from now. It definitely stamps its theme/plot/ideas into your head. Also great memory choices for what Offred remembers from the past: I enjoyed details of her apartments, of clothes, of magazines, and how she misses the simple things like a fight over loading a dishwasher.

Most annoying things: I feel it ended too soon. I at least would have liked to know, for sure (though the entirely boring "Historical Notes" at the end gives a hint that she was, in fact, rescued and transported along the "Underground FemaleRoad") When I finished the last sentence, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. I had the classic, "Well, it is a literary novel" thought, which seems the only excuse...I suppose the nature of the book/theme supports this kind of ending, I guess, but...I still didn't like it. Also the "climax" which I assume is the point that Serena Joy confronts her about her going out, was too understated. I would have like to see the old woman get a little more upset. And c'mon: the "Historical Notes," to me, were a joke (maybe they are supposed to come off that way?) To me, it was a convenient way to end the story, provide somewhat of a more concrete ending for Offred. I was pretty much *forced* to read the stupid thing because I wanted to find out what the hell happened to her!

Some things about this book seemed "missing." I suppose I would have liked to know more details about the 'transition' from normal times to Gileadean times. More about what exact religious cult started the transformation, etc. More concrete details.

Atwood is so skilled at transitions through time. She took us from the present time to the time she was captured in one sentence. This was very well done. And I'm interested to read more of her books...incidentally I quickly read a few pages from One For the Money, Janet Evanovich's first in a series about her character, Stephanie Plum. I found myself annoyed by the text; but I think it was just because I was in the middle of this very serious, slow-moving book (with very little humor) and it was extremely different in tone, style, theme and pacing.

I can't help but feel that in reading this novel, I was reading it for a class. As in, this novel is going to teach you something. But in fact the narrator's voice makes the whole thing seem pretty intimate and casual. But, it's still a "heavy" novel, as opposed to the recent books and the upcoming books in my list.

All in all, I give it an "okay." I was into it, and interested in it, but at the same time couldn't help but look forward to my next novel (that I haven't decided on yet). The approach was good, but I felt Atwood's ideas may come across as a little pedantic and high-minded, like Ayn Rand. Just not quite my style. I'd rather enjoy a book than be kicked in the face with the "grand theme" and how every word is showing us the "theme," which to Atwood seems more important than the story itself. Knowwhadimean?

Another note: one of the intriguing things about this book is the narrator's problems with "reconstruction" - the reconstruction of the story in a valid way. Sometimes she even starts over, saying, "No, it didn't happen that way." Interesting that the main point of the Historical Notes at the end is the problem with establishing authenticity of the tale. Nothing is ever as it seems, but this book takes a step further in trying to clarify that nothing is ever told exactly as it happens. I guess the narrator's ability to see past herself and see that she is the narrator of a story is interesting. And I suppose this inability to establish authenticity, and the anonymous nature of all the names, is trying to hit on the idea of women not having a true identity in this future world.

I just can't help but picture Margaret's response to any objections about her work:
"But that's what I was going for!"
But see, it's okay for the literary writers (which I thought, at one point, I might I'm not so sure) and those who are already extremely well-known.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Yesterday I started reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. It's taken me longer to get through the first 40 pages than read the whole 200 pages of The Witches. Granted, they are two very different books--Dahl's book has much bigger print, illustrations, and is, obviously much simpler reading.

I had to look up "palimpsest" just to get through the first page (I know, stupid me...what a great word). Usually I can "context clue" words enough to pass them by, but this word was too intriguing not to look up.

I've been having a bit of a depressed mood the last few days; can't say this book is helping me. And, wannabe novelist that I am, I can't even help but pick apart pieces of even Atwood's writing, whom I hear is one of the best writers of our time. I bought Janet Evanovich's first Stephanie Plum book today, One For the Money, to see if it will interest me. ...Maybe I should try to write a series. Nah, I'll write a few crappy stand-alones first, thankyouverymuch. Anyway I'm always looking forward to the next book after my visit to the Community Budget Center and my visit a few days later to another thrift store (I've got one more to hit in our small town)

I'm normally a 'literary' girl; mostly because I've been trained this way. Hours of poring over Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Tripmaster Monkey by Maxine Hong Kingston. But I guess it's just taking me a bit to "get" with Atwood's style. I know to look for symbolism, I know to read much more into the prose than other types of books... I'm sure I'll be totally into the book in a few days, maybe tomorrow, but for now I'm still stuck reading and going, "Okay, enough of the descriptions of the bricks and the rose petals. I know you have a point, but just get to some dialogue!"

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Witches by Roald Dahl (illustrated by Quentin Blake)

Started 7/30, ended 8/1. Published by Penguin Books, American Edition, 1983

What a lovely little book. Towards the beginning I vaguely recalled a movie about this book, but by the halfway point I was completely into the book and couldn't even remember the movie. The Witches is a children's book about how a child and his Grandmother (neither of them are ever referred to by name) conquer a group of more than eighty witches, including the Grand High Witch of England.

The illustrations by Quentin Blake are very cute. I was prompted to read this book by my husband, and of course the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" - the second take that just came out this year (I have yet to see it.) I also just received James and the Giant Peach in the mail today, but I'll save that for later.

This book shows the beauty of storytelling; it pretty much starts out with Grandmamma telling the little boy all about witches and how to spot them, and enthralled little boy hanging on every word. Then when they are vacationing in Bournemouth, the little boy accidentally is trapped in a room with the RSPCC members (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) - what a great name for the group of witches to hide under! He thinks for sure this is a safe place to be, so he trains his mice in there (what great foreshadowing! the first-person narrator has two mice of his own (named William and Mary) that he's training. hee hee! What a great scene, when the little boy is watching the witches and the Grand High Witch map out their plan with the "Formula 86 Delayed Action-Mousemaker. It is this formula which eventually leads the witches to their demise. Our little narrator, now turned into a mouse, pours the formula into the soup the witches are having at the hotel restaurant. Grandmamma is a wonderful character with her stinking black cigars and great love for her grandson, and vast understanding of witches.

What a great little book, and a super-fast read (for an adult, anyway).