Sunday, January 1, 2012

Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons - Cathy's Review

Front Cover
This book follows a young woman, Thayer Wentworth, through her life.  She has a myriad of experiences that include times from her past, her days at summer camp and her first love.  She eventually marries Aengus, "an unconventional Irish prof." and they live happy and quiet lives.  But things begin to change and things get a bit more interesting.  One thing seems to come back into the picture - summer camp.

I thought it was a slow starter really.  I held on and I felt it delivered.  It had a bit of romance, mystery and suspense to it, although you sort of could predict some of what was happening but definitely not ALL of it.  Thayer's character has depth and there's more to her story than you first realize.  Although some of her story lines didn't go anywhere (and I wish they had), they added to the story in a good way.
 It had a bit of outlandish behavior (old Irish folklore gone wild) in it that just isn't my cup of tea.  Despite that, the characters throughout the book kept me reading and all in all I surprisingly enjoyed the book. You could be disappointed in the ending thinking the author just wanted to quickly end it in a good way.  I however appreciated the ending, giving me the closure I needed.    
RATING - I would recommend this book.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman - Scott's Review

The Midwife's Apprentice is a Newbery Medal winning book by Karen Cushman. The main character is a homeless girl in medieval England. She has no name other than Brat. One day a midwife plucks her out of a dung heap Brat was sleeping in and given the name Beetle (as in dung beetle).  Brat then goes on to learn about being a midwife by observing the midwife at work. She also learns about herself and her own self worth as she gains confidence in herself.
I thought this book was rich in historical fact as they relate to the daily details of life in medieval England. Certainly Beetle's journey is an extraordinary one - most homeless children would have had no hope of a better future at this time. The theme is echoed by other Newbery Medal winning books including A Single Shard.

The mood of the book is very depressing. Beetle thinks so little of herself that she has no initiative at all, not even to name herself. The character's journey is suppose to be uplifting but the world presented is so bleek it's hard to feel optimistic at the end. I felt the story meanders quite a bit. You don't get the sense of a traditional plot structure with rising action. This, combined with the mood of the book left me feeling less than satisfied.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova: Cathy's Review

What We're Reading

Sarah, the main character, is a career-driven and mom with 3 children.  She has a Harvard MBA and high-stress and high paying job.  She is efficient with the management of her life and her family's life.  But then one fateful day, trying to make a phone call while driving, has a tragic accident that changes her life's direction forever.  She's left to deal with a traumatic brain injury which erases the left side of everything in her world.  She is still the same woman, driven and goal-oriented, so she wills herself to heal and to be independent once again.  Meanwhile, life does not stop and they deal with an issue with their son while all this is going on.  And on her way to becoming independent once again, she learns how to be dependent on her mother, someone she couldn't depend on while growing up.

I really felt like this had a sluggish beginning.  Was this because I was anticipating the accident,  not sure.  While I understand character development, the author certainly made the main character pretty self-centered and dare I say an adult "brat" of sorts. 

One thing I noticed was that she complained of her mother not being present in her life as she grew up, yet she is doing the same thing with her very own children in the name of pursuing an affluent successful life.

The one redeeming quality in this read was that Sarah began to understand her son being "different" as she was forced in this new world of a woman experiencing a traumatic brain injury.

While it was a quick read and the topic of brain injury was interesting, it was not as compelling in a literary sense as some other books we've read in our book club.

I would NOT RECOMMEND this book.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Blaze by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) - Scott's Revidew

By King's own admission in the book's intro he never meant for this novel to see the light of day. He calls it a "trunk novel," and, for many years, it actually sat in a trunk. It was written in 1972 but wasn't published until 2007. Blaze is a "Bachman Book" - Richard Bachman is Stephen King's pen name.

Blaze is the name of a man who is mentally retarded. He was taken under the wing of a con-man and used in the con-man's schemes. But then the con-man dies, leaving Blaze all alone in the world. Blaze's only hope for a happy ending is to successfully kidnap a rich family's young baby and ask for a ransom. He does this, but everything doesn't go as he planned...

Blaze was certainly a quick read and the plot moved forward quickly. The novel is told in alternating chapters - one in modern day (that is, 1972 modern day), the next in Blaze's formative years. While I didn't mind this, I sometimes wanted to skip over the childhood stuff, especially since most of the time it didn't directly impact what was happening in the modern story.

King does a good job of making Blaze a sympathetic character. This novel isn't so much a story as it is a character study. What makes a man do something do desperate?

I also liked that it remained a realistic fiction story, not fantasy like so many of King's novels. Sure, Blaze hears his dead friend's voice in his head but that's all he remains - a voice in Blaze's head. No ghosts or zombies in this novel!

Overall, it's an enjoyable, quick read that kept me turning the pages to see if Blaze would blindly stumble upon success or the inevitable failure.

This book is RECOMMENDED.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak - Scott's Review

I Am the Messenger is a mystery book of sorts. The main character, Ed, is a nineteen year old cab driver with no hope for a better future. He and his friends are all losers. The book starts with a bank robbery that Ed stops almost by dumb luck. After that, he starts getting mysterious playing cards in the mail that send him to addresses around the town. The people that live at these addresses have problems and Ed is tasked with fixing those problems. Along the way, he discovers himself and the power he has in life.

The book is written from Ed's point of view and it sometimes comes across as a bit heavy-handed. Sure, it's suppose to be noir-ish but the narrator's dialogue is extremely cheesy.

Some of the action is odd such as when Ed becomes a voyeur and watches a teenage girl run barefoot, pretends to be an demented elderly woman's deceased husband, beats up a kid, and arranges a free beer day at a local church. And none of the other characters seem to think that any of this is odd in the slightest.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this book is that the big mystery man behind the cards is none other than... Markus Zusak, the author of the book! That's right - the author wrote himself into the book not only as a character but also as the author of the book. At one point, he tells Ed that HE, the author, is responsible for all of his troubles (killing his dad, sending thugs to beat him up, etc.).

The book becomes a bit repetitive with the playing cards. The author sticks literally to the mantra, "Protect the diamonds. Survive the clubs. Dig deep through the spades. Feel the hearts," which makes the book predictable at times. Also, the book is set in Australia but I thought it was set in England until halfway through the book when the characters celebrate Christmas and it is warm outside still.