Birmingham, AL, United States | Member Since 2015
Although I have only spent one night in the woods with a backpack, I'm oh so happy I took this hike with Cheryl Strayed. Unlike some die hard backpackers that have criticized the book for fear that more inexperienced hikers will follow in the author's blistered footsteps, I really understood this memoir and her motivations. In some ways, I've lived a parallel life to Cheryl Strayed minus the 1100-mile hike. We were born the same year and we lost a parent the same year. The author lost her mother to lung cancer when her mother was 45; I lost my father to lung cancer when my father was 47. What followed those deaths for both of us was a pattern of self-destructive behavior that would last for several years. One morning at about the halfway point of listening to the audiobook and walking my dog at 5 a.m., I burst into tears and realized that I was reading one of the best books of 2012.
Shatter Me is another 3-star dystopian novel that I read on the heels of Station Eleven. Whereas Station Eleven is a literary dystopian tale aimed at an adult audience, this is a young adult novel along the lines of Divergent. I was pleased with the promising ending, but was pretty irritated by the writing in the first three-quarters of the book. Imagine an entire novel written in the style of slam poetry with bunches of repetitive...repetitive...repetitive phrases and multitudes of over-the-top descriptions ("There are 400 cotton balls caught in my windpipe.") Fortunately, the author abandoned this writing style in the final stretch of the novel. Only then did it feel like she had finally settled into her skin, and was ready to give us the story we had all been waiting for. Because of the strong ending, I'm actually interested in the next two books in the trilogy.
Julie Kibler's debut novel tackles many themes common to Southern fiction: race relations; interracial marriage; family secrets; and unexpected friendship. The story is split between a present-day road trip from Arlington, Texas, to Cincinnati for 30-something Dorrie and almost-90 Isabelle, and a flashback to Isabelle's coming of age in the 1930s. Of particular interest is an explanation of the "sundown" law in Isabelle's small Kentucky town which prohibited blacks in town after dark. Interestingly, these laws were in no way limited to just the South but were found as far west as California in the 1930s. I like the way this book compared and contrasted race relations between Isabelle's "then" and Dorrie and Isabelle's "now," but - at the same time - there was something lacking for me and I never felt fully engaged. Despite this sentiment, I believe Julie Kibler is a fine writer and I look forward to reading her future books.
Station Eleven has received a lot of hype and accolades, and was listed on several "Best of 2014" lists. I do not disagree that this was a beautifully written and original story, but I suspect it will not stay with me - and hence, it earns that middle of the road rating of 3 stars. At the start of the book, the post-apocalyptic tale evoked fond memories of The Road. Others have made that same comparison to Cormac McCarthy but, for me, the comparison is short-lived. This book is literary dystopian fiction with a heavy emphasis on the literary and a marked dilution of the dystopian. That might not sound so bad, but these traits make the book bland, and the ending unresolved and unremarkable.
It's funny how books come to you sometimes. I haven't read a John Grisham novel in 20 years (The Chamber) but then Leonard Maltin recommended on his new movie podcast that I re-watch A Time to Kill. I did, and ended up ordering Sycamore Row as the credits rolled. So, of course, it was Matthew McConaughey as Jake Brigance in my mind's eye as I read this sequel. This was a good story, and reading a Grisham novel after all those years was like slipping on a warm and fluffy pair of slippers. I'm now practicing law so I truly enjoyed the primer on wills and estates and the old and new characters were engaging. I didn't know for certain how this one would all work itself out, but it ultimately did so in a satisfying way. I can't remember if all Grisham novels are as packed with legal procedure and explanations as this one is but I suspect that might be why some readers found this novel to be a bit slow and/or boring. Not so for me. I recommend that you re-watch A Time to Kill to catch up on the original Jake Brigance story which is referenced a number of times in this new one, and then settle in for another good - but not too taxing - Grisham tale ripped from the legal headlines.
This was my least favorite book this year - thank goodness it was a short one. There were only about 75 or so pages in which I found myself a bit captivated by the story, but I did not care for the first half of the book, nor did I like the last quarter of the book.
Here are my reasons why: 1) every important character in this book was self-absorbed, self-loathing, and a "victim"; 2) the number of bodily fluids described in joyous detail during the first half of the book caused me to physically grimace as I read and their mention was unnecessary; 3) the characters were cliches; 4) the author did too much telling (instead of just showing) as if she didn't trust the reader to "get it" or understand without her injection of information; 5) the plot was preposterous and completely unbelievable; and 6) the protagonist was so overly dramatic and unlikeable and, given what she was going through, I don't think I was supposed to laugh out loud at her dilemmas.
Not many who read this book disliked the New York Times Bestseller as much as I did, but there were a few. One of those recommended Room by Emma Donoghue which I bought since finishing this book. The book that stood out for me as a worthy alternative was My Story by Elizabeth Smart. The abductor in Elizabeth's memoir is just as sick and creepy and the circumstances of her abduction are preposterous and unbelievable (but actually true); however, it is her grace following the abduction that truly separates Elizabeth Smart from the protagonist in this novel.
This is exactly what I want from an award-winning novel! I was hooked immediately by the author's authentic southern voice and the way she expertly molded and shaped the four Price girls and their mother. The Poisonwood Bible was my kind of Southern Gothic fiction, but instead of being set in the American South, it was set in the Belgian Congo. If you decide to take this journey into Africa, expect Southern Baptist evangelism gone wrong, ignorant racism, the devolution of European colonialism, ex-patriot survival to the extreme, and the unmistakable bonds between siblings. Some readers were turned off by the apparently heavy-handed political tone of the book, but I was intrigued by the history of the Congo and the struggles of its people before and after Belgian occupation (and the impact of all on whites living in the country). There are images from this book that I will likely never lose - like a green mamba snake camouflaged in a tree and the distinctive light blue color of the inside of its mouth.
This was my first Diane Chamberlain book but was just OK for me. I was drawn to the book because it was set in the 1960s in North Carolina (southern fiction is one of my favorite genres) and involved the controversial Eugenics Board of North Carolina. I agree with others that the book was easy to read and moved along at a good clip, but I struggled to connect with the characters and the plausibility of the story. I know that the Eugenics Board existed - in fact North Carolina is just now in the process of making compensation payments to victims of its forced sterilization program. I also know now (after doing some research post-reading) that North Carolina was the only state that allowed social workers to designate people for sterilization. Hence, I can see why Ms. Chamberlain, as a former social worker, was drawn to writing this untold story. I just felt there was some character development lacking. Instead, I walked away from this book better educated by the crazy world around us (which is a good thing) but not necessarily emotionally touched. I hope to try another Diane Chamberlain novel in the future.
Some readers have described this book as light Australian chick lit perfect for the beach. I read my fair share of chick lit beach reads but I would NOT place Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret in that category. This book is much more substantial than that description. Instead, expect to be challenged by this read. The first challenge is to keep straight the many (seemingly) unrelated characters that you will be introduced to in the first few chapters. The next challenge will unfold as the book progresses. The author let's you in to the thoughts and feelings of these characters as each faces and tackles some pretty daunting life obstacles. Your challenge is to refrain (if you can) on passing judgment too soon. Would you feel the same way given the same obstacle? Would you take the same action? This book is definitely a great beach read but don't expect to just sit on the sidelines, sipping a fruity drink. You will be mentally engaged in the story whether you like it or not. Expect this one to be made into a movie!
Lawrence Wright's epilogue to Going Clear sums up my feelings about this book quite succinctly. No matter how shocked or horrified or disgusted or scared or baffled you are with the underpinnings of Scientology and the ongoing behaviors of its believers, just study any other religion and you will uncover religious principles, stories and directives lacking in any fact basis; human rights abuses; disgruntled former believers who now feel duped and disillusioned; and lots of financial resources sheltered from government taxation. What makes Scientology especially disturbing to me, though, is the emphasis on self-centeredness, narcissism, and individual gain at the exclusion of all others. Wright's book focuses on the celebrity Scientologists just like the religion itself focuses on the celebrity Scientologists. There are definitely the haves and the have-nots within this church. Out of curiousity, I tried to find the nearest Scientology center to me in Birmingham, Alabama, and was not so surprised to find that there is a Scientology Celebrity Centre in Nashville, Tennessee. There apparently are not enough celebrities in Alabama to warrant any other presence by the church. That is OK with me. This book got me thinking and talking - definitely worth a read.
This was not my first foray into the work of Hitchens. I read God is Not Great as well as several Vanity Fair articles prior to this set of essays. This book, however, illuminated the huge gap in intellect between Hitchens and myself. Not a surprising discovery but rather humbling. Fortunately, Hitchens himself made some progress in closing that gap as I progressed through his 100+ essays from start to finish. Because nearly all of the literary references in the first third of the book were lost on me, it almost felt like I was reading a book written in a different language but that slowly dissipated as I moved along. For the casual reader of Hitchens, be prepared for a literary challenge but don't let that challenge stop you from getting to know this prolific writer and his thought-provoking opinions on literature, politics and religion.
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