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.