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I'm so glad that I finally succumbed to reading this after the whole series was published so I could start Catching Fire immediately! That's exactly what I had to do, and I'm sure that will be the case with Mockingjay. I resisted reading this because I was afraid it would be far too dystopian, science fiction, and YA for me (I'm well into my 50s), but Collins has managed to write a series that will appeal to the intended audience and adults as well. The Hunger Games has a taut, dramatic and thought-provoking storyline, but it also deals with much bigger questions of celebrity, morality, justice, and humanity. I used to work in a middle school library and I'm debating returning for a visit to make sure as many students (and staff!) read this as possible. The premise of the book itself is horrifying, but I hope that it will provoke thoughtfulness about the striking similarities between Panem and our own culture.
Still Life with Bread Crumbs has been called the literary equivalent of comfort food, but it just made me feel uncomfortable. I really wanted to like this, since it is authored by Anna Quindlen and the premise sounded somewhat interesting; after the story devolved into a vaguely creepy May-December romance lacking Quindlen's usual gifted writing I was sadly disappointed. I had hoped for a book with more than a predictable plot, one-dimensional characters, and rambling writing, but when I came to the list of words that Rebecca's dog could understand and read the phrase "But that was later" for what seemed like the fiftieth time, I knew I wasn't going to find the depth and exceptional writing I was looking for in Still Life with Bread Crumbs. I've read and really enjoyed several of Quindlen's previous novels and essays, but I'm afraid I may pass on her future books.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is everything other reviewers have said, and more. It’s a wonderfully-written and varied collection of Ann Patchett’s essays, ranging from musings about how she considered joining the Los Angeles Police Dept. in order to write about it and how she is influenced by her father, a retired LAPD police captain, to her feelings about her dog Rose and Sister Nena, the nun that taught her to read and write, to the eloquent and moving account of caring for her grandmother during her progression into dementia.
I’ve read and enjoyed (with reservations) several of Patchett’s novels. Bel Canto was great but I hated the ending, and I liked State of Wonder, except for some of the more ludicrous plot points. I personally found this collection of essays much more engrossing than any of her novels that I’ve read. She can write about almost anything, revealing thoughts, emotions, and advice without becoming preachy and overbearing.
I was completely unaware of Lucy Grealy, Patchett’s long-term friendship with her, and the controversies arising from their relationship. I’m very tempted to read Patchett’s Truth and Beauty to delve into this further, and may do that after I’ve had some time to digest the essay from Grealy’s sister in The Guardian. I’m hoping that Patchett will further show, as she did in this collection, that there are often quite a few ways of viewing a situation, and one absolute truth does not always exist.
I do have to thank Ann Patchett for leading me to an epiphany. In “Love Sustained”, she writes about the long and painful decline of her grandmother Eva:
“My grandmother had spent her life taking care of other people, cooking their food, cleaning their houses. It was her proof that she was valuable in the world. Now I cleaned my grandmother's apartment, which hurt her every single time. My cleaning was an accusation, no matter how quietly I went about it.”
When I read “It was her proof that she was valuable in the world.”, I gained a much better understanding of my dear mother-in-law. She raised five children with lots of hard work and no time to herself. Now that she has too much time to herself, she is missing that visible proof that she is valuable in the world. I could see her so clearly in that one simple sentence. I’m grateful for this entertaining and elucidative collection of essays that was a pleasure to read, and even more so when read by the author in the audio version.
To paraphrase Dickens, “It was the best of books, it was the worst of books, it was a book of wisdom, it was a book of foolishness, it was a book of belief, it was a book of incredulity.” This begins to describe some of my thoughts about The Goldfinch.
Theo Decker, the thirteen-year-old narrator of The Goldfinch, has been suspended from school. He and his mother have an appointment with the school principal, but because they are getting drenched in a downpour, they escape the rainstorm in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is a terrorist bombing at The Met in which many people are killed, including Theo’s beloved mother. In the midst of the chaos, a dazed and frightened Theo spirits away his mother’s favorite painting, “The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritius. After the bombing, Theo lives with a friend’s dysfunctional family on Park Avenue, later with his estranged father in Las Vegas where he meets larger-than-life Boris, and back to New York where he again meets up with antique furniture restorer Hobie, who he is connected with through the bombing. Throughout it all, Theo carries “The Goldfinch” as his last remaining connection to his mother, despite the many difficulties his possession of the painting causes. Don’t let my clumsy recounting of the plot deter you; Tartt has written a vast plot with interesting characters, but the really important parts of this novel are Tartt's details and writing.
Other readers may have been bored and exasperated by the detail, but for me it was an important part of the book. The details and descriptions of the dysfunctional Barbours, their Park Avenue apartment, the desolation of Las Vegas, the wry and philosophical personality of Boris as it has been formed through appalling parental neglect, and the incredible details about antique furniture and its restoration helped create a world that at times was more fully drawn for me than the world in which I was sitting and listening to the book. David Pittu is an excellent narrator for this book, especially in his treatment of Hobie and Boris.
First and foremost, Tartt is an incredible writer. She is able to write sentences and paragraphs such as these:
“I accepted all this counsel politely, with a glassy smile and a glaring sense of unreality. Many adults seemed to interpret this numbness as a positive sign; I remember particularly Mr. Beeman (an overly clipped Brit in a dumb tweed motoring cap, whom despite his solicitude I had come to hate, irrationally, as an agent of my mother’s death) complimenting me on my maturity and informing me that I seemed to be “coping awfully well.” And maybe I was coping awfully well, I don’t know. Certainly I wasn’t howling aloud or punching my fist through windows or doing any of the things I imagined people might do who felt as I did. But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.”
There were some missteps for me in The Goldfinch. Pippa is a red-haired girl that Theo notices at The Met, and over the course of the book, he comes to imagine her as his soul-mate. The character of Pippa and her relationship with Theo are among the few areas in the book that are lacking in detail, but more is really needed. There is also a scene concerning Theo and his ethical slide about three-quarters through the book that made me want to stop listening. I had to stop reading for a week or so, but I thought about the book and what was happening to the characters so much that I had to start reading again.
I’ve read several reviews in which people state that the characters aren’t likable and Theo is too passive. I didn’t find the characters especially likable myself, but for me, any unlikeability was simply part of who they were and was necessary within the novel as a whole. Theo was passive, buffeted by cruel and arbitrary circumstances, randomness, and many well-meaning adults who were damaged themselves, but that is exactly how I would expect a traumatized thirteen-year-old to behave, even as he was growing up over the course of the novel. Theo says and recognizes, “Things would have turned out better if she had lived.” and they certainly would have.
Nobody writes minutiae like Bill Bryson, but that's a good thing. He manages to take some big events along with odd tidbits about people and tie them together in an interesting and entertaining way in One Summer: America, 1927. The summer begins with Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic and goes on to include Babe Ruth and his 60 home runs, Prohibition, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Great Mississippi Flood, Henry Ford, and Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. But wait; there’s more! Gertrude Ederle (“the most forgotten person in America”), Calvin Coolidge’s naps and cowboy uniform, Ruth Snyder and her corset salesman lover Judd Gray (the basis of Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice), and Shipwreck Kelly, flagpole sitter. But wait; there’s still more! That may be one of the books weaknesses. There are times when Bryson’s detours begin to get slightly tedious, and dare I say boring, but the plethora of information is also one of the book’s strengths. Bryson managed to give me a better understanding of everything that was going on during this particular summer and how these people and events interacted, like how Hoover’s leadership during the Great Mississippi Flood put him in position for the presidency. One Summer: America, 1927 is not an exhaustive, extensively-researched, focused history, but it is an accessible, easy to read work that is both educational and entertaining. The fact that I got to listen to Bill Bryson read his own book on audio makes it even better.
This is the perfect prequel to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, giving readers a better understanding of who Ajax Penumbra is and how he came to own the 24-hour bookstore. Just as interesting as Mr. Penumbra in this story is how Robin Sloan writes about San Francisco and its history. Sadly, this one was over far too soon; I'm hoping Mr. Sloan will write more about Ajax Penumbra, his life, and his bookstore.
I can't think of any author that can write about science and the people involved with science in such a compelling way as Andrea Barrett, and Archangel is a stunning example of her abilities. In this group of five interconnected stories, she writes about early aviation, Darwin's theory of evolution, Einstein's theory of relativity, genetics research, and early x-ray technology. This is historical fiction, and the scientific pioneers are either named or easily recognizable, but Barrett writes so well that these real scientists never overtake the fictional characters she has created.
The interconnectedness of the stories is truly original. The young boy, Constantine Boyd, in the first story, "The Investigators", returns as a grown man and soldier in World War I in the last story, "Archangel". In "The Investigators", Constantine comes to know a neighbor named Miss Atkins who is interested in blind cave fish. Henrietta Atkins returns as a student and teacher in "The Island" where she comes to understand Darwin's theory of evolution from The Professor (Louis Agassiz, although he is not named in the story), but her understanding is quite different from what he is trying to teach. "The Ether of Science" deals with widowed science writer Phoebe Cornelius trying to reconcile what she knows and feels with the ideas of Sir Oliver Lodge. Phoebe's son, Sam, accompanies her to a lecture given by Lodge, one where she is just baffled and confused, but Sam understands what is going on very well, and writes a paper that amazes his mother. This scene has some of the best writing I have ever read about science, humans, emotion, and the reconciliation of science and spirituality. Sam later appears in "The Particles" as a geneticist aboard the Athenia, a British ship sunk by the Nazis in World War II.
I've most likely made this seem more jumbled and confused than Barrett's exceptional writing in Archangel really is, but these stories are all clear, direct, and simply beautiful. I listened to this as an audiobook, and while this was a fine way to experience the book, I will definitely be rereading this in print, so as to not miss any details and for the real pleasure of reading stories so beautifully written.
Anna Quindlen is a genius with words and using those words to describe family dynamics; she does this masterfully in One True Thing. It's a story about a daughter, Ellen, caring for her dying mother, Kathy Gulden, with a subplot about mercy killing, but it's Quindlen's writing skill that makes it far more than a simplistic page-turner. While caring for her mother, and even long after her mother's death, Ellen sheds her illusions about her family, and learns how to truly know and understand their personalities and not just their preconceived character traits that she has oversimplified. In the process, Ellen becomes a person "with a heart", and Quindlen explores this beautifully. I wish I had read this book ten years ago when my mother was in a similar situation; it has shown me that there were things I could have and should have done.
I'm fairly sure that Anna Quindlen is the only author that could have done justice to the topics of family, tragedy, grief, suffering, and life found in Every Last One. I won't elaborate on the plot because it's best to not know too much about this book, as almost every other reviewer has mentioned. I can say that when daughter Ruby explains chaos theory to her mother Mary Beth, how the beating of a butterfly’s wings in Mexico could raise a breeze in their own back yard, Mary Beth's reply, “That’s kind of terrifying" is entirely appropriate. Quindlen explains how the smallest of events can have the biggest, most life-altering consequences, and she does it perfectly.
This book is compelling, interesting and very well-researched, but the subject is so disturbing that there were times I was in tears and had to stop reading. Cullen answers the questions "what drove these killers, and what did they do to this town?", but I was still left with many questions. The author does make it clear that we will never have definitive answers to many of the remaining questions. Some of the most important information presented in the book may be that there is no simple explanation or profile that would allow us to prevent devastating events like this in the future. It may be that each of us has to question and act on the small increments of information that might add up to a much bigger tragic picture, and advise our children/students to do the same.
I would have better understood the events if the book had been written more chronologically, but that is really a personal preference. Cullen presents Harris, Klebold, the many people whose lives they changed irreparably, the media and we as consumers of the media, and Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in a riveting, disturbing yet essential book. This is one I will be thinking about for a long time to come.
What a pleasant and interesting surprise The Cuckoo's Calling was! I'm not a mystery reader at all, had never heard of Robert Galbraith, and didn't have much interest in reading about the investigation of a super model's possible suicide, so I honestly would never had picked this up if it hadn't been for the J.K. Rowling kerfuffle. She has introduced a compelling and genuinely human private investigator in the form of Cormoran Strike, his temporary secretary Robin Ellacott, along with a well-plotted mystery. I wanted to keep reading to see whodunit, but also because the book was well-written; I can see shades of the same excellent plotting I admired in Harry Potter. I hope she had fun writing inventive characters' names because I certainly had fun reading them, along with the engaging story. I will avidly look forward to further installments in the Cormoran Strike series!
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