Beginnings

Welcome friends! I have started this entry in the global technosphere because I have been in love with books since the age of 2. Among the busy business of being a new teacher, this is my outlet for sharing thoughts on a love of reading a wide variety of books. My inspiration can be summed up with a yearbook quote from a teacher written when I was 8: "To the only girl at recess I see reading a book. Good for you!"
My blog title is quoted from a classmate who asked me this once. Believe it or not, I've also heard it as a teacher :D

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Retro Read Mini-Reviews

I've had a number of draft posts left unfinished on many books that I've read before I started blogging but have yet to publish, probably because I don't have a lot to write about them.  To avoid this pitfall, I'm going to post the rest of my "retro read" reviews here in miniature form.  From now on, all my future reviews will be for contemporary reads.

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
The Stone Angel- Margaret Laurence

Published:  1964
Length:  318 pages
ISBN:  9780226469362
Genre:  Literary Fiction

Start Date:  Summer 2008
Finished Date:  Summer 2008

Where Found:  Public library
Why Read:  I adored The Diviners which I had read the previous year and wanted to read Laurence’s other most revered novel.

Summary:  An elderly woman resisting being placed in a nursing home reflects on her life as a young rebellious bride, the clear favouritism of her oldest son, and the conflicting relationship with her younger son trying to care for her.

Review:

Like the reflective Morag Gunn in The Diviners, Hagar Shipley is a terrific storyteller: honest, funny, unapolegetic, yet is not without regrets.  The narrative is much looser in structure than The Diviners but is still a remarkable story with a number of memorable characters.

A 2007 movie version (made in Canada) starred Ellen Burstyn, Kevin Zegers, Ellen Page, Dylan Baker, and relative unknown Christine Horne who has a striking resemblance to Burstyn.

Rank:  (A)- Excellent, Highly Recommend



Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
The Silence of the Lambs- Thomas Harris

Published:  1988
Length:  352 pages
ISBN:  9780312195267
Genre:  Mystery/Suspense

Start Date:  Sometime in 2007-8
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2007-8

Where Found:  Used bookstore
Why Read:  Fascination with the characters and word of mouth.  I don’t think I had seen the movie yet (at least not in its entirety).

Summary:  A young FBI agent in training interviews a cannibalistic serial killer and former forensic psychiatrist on death row to track down a serial killer who has kidnapped a Senator’s daughter.

Review:

This was a spine-tingling mystery/thriller with an imaginative, terrifying character that you can't help but like in a twisted, backward kind of way.  The intense, highly suspenseful plot is meticulously constructed and the two main characters, Clarice and Hannibal, are one of the most compatible duos ever written.

The movie with Anthony Hopkins & Jodie Foster was brilliant, especially in the extensive characteristics Hopkins brought to Lecter, vastly improving on the book's depicton of him.  Chronologically, the story goes in this order:  Hannibal Rising (fourth book, fourth movie), Red Dragon (first book, third movie), SOTL (second book, first movie), and Hannibal (third book, second movie).  I've only read SOTL but seen all movies (except Hannibal Rising).  SOTL is the best movie of the series, but the other two are good as well & worth seeing.

Rank:  (A+)- Fantastic, A Must-Read!


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Bridget Jones's Diary- Helen Fielding

Published:  1996
Length:  288 pages
ISBN:  9780143117131
Genre:  Chick Lit, Humour

Start Date:  Sometime in 2003
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2003

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  Loved the movie and wanted to try my first real “chick lit” novel (I was in high school).

Summary:  A single 30-something new journalist in London writes in diary form about her wacky family, loyal friends, weight struggles, competing romances with the charming Daniel and stuck-up Mark, and intakes of alcohol & cigarettes.

Review:

I enjoyed the lightweight story and the bawdy humour, though I'm sure I could relate more to Bridget now than I could then ;)  I'm pleased to say that this was my first "chick lit" novel I ever read...or maybe it was Love Story by Erich Segal, which I read around the same time (funny story: I was looking for a romance novel to compare with Romeo & Juliet for a high school assignment, typed in "love story" in my library's catalogue and this came up first!).  I love the sweet movie adaptation with Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant & Colin Firth.

Rank:  (A)- Excellent, Lots of Fun!


I Am Charlotte Simmons- Tom Wolfe
Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2004
Length:  752 pages
ISBN:  9780312424442
Genre:  Literary Fiction

Start Date:  Sometime in 2007-8
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2007-8

Where Found:  Campus bookstore
Why Read:  I had heard about Tom Wolfe’s surveying of American university students and I was interested in how he portrayed college life.

Summary:  Set during her freshman semester at an elitist college, a poor, na├»ve farm girl is subject to classicism, ridicule, and sexual exploitation.

Review:

At first, this novel was interesting and quite realistic (as well as satiric) about a young girl's entry into college and introduced a number of what I thought would amount to memorable characters.  Once the dorm rooms had been assigned and roommates, jocks, and dorks had been established, the novel became a slippery slope with a mishmash of rather pedestrian forays into popularity, ambiguous self-identity, and sexuality that came off as more relevant to the high school experience than the college one.  Call me a prude, but there was very little attention paid to academics, jobs, family, or sadly, even friendship, rendering much of the novel about newfound enemies, lovers, and other extra-curriculars (both savoury and not).  I would take a definite pass on this one; however I will try other Tom Wolfe books when I get around to it.

Rank:  (D)- Finished but Do Not Recommend


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Mystic River- Dennis Lehane

Published:  2001
Length:  416 pages
ISBN:  9780060584757
Genre:  Mystery/Suspense

Start Date:  Sometime in 2008
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2008

Where Found:  Used bookstore
Why Read:  After finishing a Jonathan Kellerman novel, I heard that Lehane was a different kind of mystery writer, so I became interested.  I had also seen the movie and wanted some deeper insights on the characters.

Summary:  Set in Boston, a homicide detective is investigating the murder of a childhood friend’s daughter while a third former friend, who survived a childhood molestation & abduction, is under suspicion for the crime.

Review:

This is a strongly written novel with an unusual focus on the characters, allowing the plot to ebb and flow naturally with the characters' actions being trigger points that give it life.  A number of plot events take place, and not in the typical structure of having one central plot with one or more subplots occuring around it, but really, they all had an equal stake in the development of the whole story.

The movie version was directed by Clint Eastwood, and starred Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney & Emmy Rossum.  It was equally as good as the novel--no better, no worse, an unusual occurence in adapting books to movies.  It's worth watching as much as the novel is worth reading.

Rank:  (A)- Excellent, Highly Recommend


Where the Heart Is- Billie Letts

Published:  1995
Length:  384 pages
ISBN:  0340646985
Genre:  "Chick Lit"

Start Date:  Sometime in 2006-7
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2006-7

Where Found:  Used bookstore
Why Read:  I picked this & The Deep End of the Ocean up to try some of Oprah’s Book Club picks.

Summary:  A pregnant teenager is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart in rural Oklahoma where she is taken in and raises her daughter with a kindly woman who mistakes her for someone else, making friends with a nurse having trouble finding a father figure for her kids.

Review:

I loved the quirky qualities of this novel--the characters with interesting names (Novalee, Americus, Sister Husband, and especially Lexie's children all named for snack foods:  Brownie, Praline & Baby Ruth), the oddly coincidental circumstances surrounding an unlucky number, and Novalee forming a close friendship with a complete stranger.  The subplot with her runaway boyfriend Willy Jack and his budding music career as a country singer is a bit lax compared to the boundless energy of her life that follows him leaving her, 17, pregnant, and alone at a Wal-Mart.  I enjoyed reading it, about as much as I enjoy a hot shower--it's soothing, lovely, but not life-changing.

The movie version starred Natalie Portman (fantastic in one of her breakout roles), Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing & Sally Field.  It was sweet, enjoyable, and worth a viewing.

Rank:  (B)- Very Good, Recommend


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
The Accidental Tourist- Anne Tyler

Published:  1985
Length:  355 pages
ISBN:  039454689X
Genre:  Literary Fiction

Start Date:  Summer 2008
Finished Date:  Summer 2008

Where Found:  Used bookstore
Why Read:  Loved the movie and thought the eccentric characters would be even more enjoyable in the novel. I was right!

Summary:  A stifling travel writer divorcing his wife after the death of their son gradually falls in love with a loopy dog trainer while his publisher develops interest in his client’s sister who cannot pull away from caring for her neurotic brothers.

Review:

I fell in love with Anne Tyler's characters immediately and had a blast reading this!  Her style is distinctly her own, completely incomparable to any other writer.  I can't wait to continue reading more of her work.

The movie version starred William Hurt, a delightful Geena Davis & Kathleen Turner.  It was a fun, lovely movie that I recommend as a companion to the novel.  I saw the movie before reading the book and I enjoyed both immensely, so it doesn't seem to matter what order you read/view this one.

Rank:  (A+)- Fantastic, A Must-Read


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Deception Point- Dan Brown

Published:  2001
Length:  736 pages
ISBN:  0552151764
Genre:  Suspense

Start Date:  Sometime in 2007-8
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2007-8

Where Found:  Borrowed from a coworker after I finished two previous Dan Brown novels (Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code)
Why Read:  My coworker said it was better than DVC and equally good to A&D, which I also liked best.

Summary:  A team of experts, including the daughter of a Senator, is sent to the Arctic Circle to investigate a meteor that may or may not prove the existence of alien life.

Review:

I hate to admit that I can't remember many of the plot details but it was a smart, fast-paced story, a great main character (not Robert Langdon--this book is separate from that series), and was quite addictive.  It was nearly as good as Angels & Demons and better than The DaVinci Code.  I would highly recommend this to fans of Dan Brown or those looking for a fascinating mystery/thriller.
Rank:  (A)- Excellent, Highly recommended

5 comments:

  1. Great mini-reviews. I'm particularly interested in Mystic River. I haven't seen the movie, but the book has been identified as a "literary mystery" which intrigues me.

    I read I Am Charlotte Simmons a couple of years ago, and I couldn't put it down. I thought it blew every college stereotype out of the water. It never occurred to me that the book reflect high school experiences more. Maybe it's time for a reread. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am so glad you liked The Silence of the Lambs and Mystic River! Dennis Lehane sure is a genius. Have you read/seen Shutter Island yet? I highly recommend it. The film is slightly better than the book though.

    And Deception Point was cool. I hated Dan Brown's latest, but I did like his old ones.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's interesting that you disliked Charlotte Simmons so much. I remember enjoying it, but I don't remember why. I've read a few other Wolfe books- Bonfire of the Vanities and Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I am always interested in how deeply he seems to immerse himself in his subject matter.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I loved the Stone Angel, but it's been years since I read it. I was recently given a copy of Deception Point, but couldn't decide whether I actually wanted to read it. I think I might after reading your review.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The brutal privacy of pain, the bitterness of a vengeful heart, the loss of innocence and the limitations of friendship; these are the hard realities that MYSTIC RIVER explores with a masculine desperation and honesty. This is the sort of book that men need to be writing and reading, because there are no false heroics or sentimentality, just the truth. Covering similar territory of emotional extremes within a completely different scenario is IN THE GHOST COUNTRY, a haunting true story about a man walking to the bottom of the world in the company of his dead mother and his many dead friends.

    ReplyDelete