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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna

Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.
Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America's hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach—the lacuna—between truth and public presumption. 

What a book and I am struggling to put my thoughts about it down on paper.

This was chosen by one of my bookgroups as it's monthly read but I sort of put it to the back of my mind as I have never read any of this authors novels and there was just something about them that put me off.  No idea what but I just seemed to be a bit scared of reading one of them.  So fate played a hand, when I was mooching around the Friends of the Library bookstore (http://www.folmc.org/) and there was a lovely brand new hardback copy of this book for a couple of dollars.  Well I just had to take it and give it a try.

During the first 196 pages I thought that my initial thoughts about this author were justified.  While the subject matter was interesting the style of writing just did not work for me.  It started and then came to an abrupt stop in the first two chapters and then proceeded in a very "staccato" style of diary pages.  I was struggling so much with following it because of this style and also, because of the Mexican places and names and use of Spanish interspersed amongst the English that seemed to stop my reading flow dead in it's tracks.  I even went so far as saying to my husband that I was going to give up as life was to short to read something that I wasn't really enjoying.  Then a voice in my head said no, so I looked up some of the reviews of this novel on one of my favourite book websites (readitswapit.co.uk) where a number of trusted acquaintances made similar comments that they had struggled with the first part of the book but had kept reading and it was really worth persevering with.  So I persevered and I am so glad I did.

Such an interesting story where a number of real characters and their stories were linked together by the main character Harrison Shepherd.  I thought the characters were so well developed that I really felt for Mr Shepherd, amongst others, and was really angry at his trial by media.  It is difficult to say much more without inserting spoilers.  It showed me that even back then when there wasn't the same levels of media intrusion that goes on today, a person could be hung because one journalist chose to write blatant lies or twisted the truth to suit their own headline needs.   It is also frightening to think that the Government had/has such power to brand someone with an undesirable tag and then hound them out of their livelihood and country.  I would love for one of my Eastern European friends as well as a friend who was alive and remember the Anti Communist upsurge during the post war years to read this book and get their opinions.  I truly can't wait to discuss it at bookgroup anyway.  The staccato start and stop dead moment at the beginning of the book all became clear as the book came to it's conclusion and then actually added to the experience as a whole.

It has been a while since a novel has left me really wound up and full of the injustices of this world like this has.  I know it is only a book and is fiction (although heavily based on facts) but it has really made me quite angry and almost ready to seek vengeance on behalf of Harrison Shepherd, lol!  Better watch what I write or
I may get investigated by the Committee of Un American Activity - if it still exists today!!!!

I nearly gave it 4 stars out of 5 because of the start but as my thoughts come tumbling out it upgrades itself to a 5 star as it is a book that most people should read at some point.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go To Sleep

As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I'm still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me ...' Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine's life.

After a number of unsatisfying reads I was almost drooling over this book.  I had seen it being reviewed by a number of trusted reading friends and, while I avoided reading the reviews, there was something about the book that just drew me in.  When I saw it on the Express shelves in my local library just shouting my name - Hazel, read me, read me - I just had to pick it up.  

Even physically it did not disappoint.    A beautifully covered hardback with the rough edged thick paper inside.  There was nothing about this book that was, so far, letting me down.  I know, you are thinking that I am setting myself up for a big disappointment if the story does not live up to my expectations.  Thankfully it actually did live up to them - woo hoo.

Ok the basic concept has been done before, where someone loses their memory when they sleep and they have to solve the mystery that is their life.  Think the movies Memento (Guy Pearce) or even While you were Sleeping (Sandra Bullock) and you would not be wrong the idea is an old one but (and for once it is a good but) this author just seems to get it right.  He manages to get the balance between the emotions of Christine having to live this half life and the conspiracy theory that she believes is going on around her.  The characters are beautifully developed and so well written that I felt I could picture each and every one of them  This is aided by the fact that Christine does not automatically know what each person in her life looks like (or who they actually are) so she writes down a very descriptive journal to remind herself.

The story itself was an absolute page turner for me and my sympathies and suspicions kept bouncing back and forwards between three of the main characters - Dr Nash, Ben and Claire - which, I think, is what the author was trying to achieve.  I could actually almost project myself into Christine's mind and felt some of the same confusion that she must have felt each day about what to believe.  Such a page turner that I slept in the spare room just so I could sit up really late to finish it.

So why did I drop one star giving it 4 out of 5.  Well the ending was good but not mind blowing.   The last 40 or 50 pages were not as good as the other 300 as I guessed most of what was going to happen by then.  Don't let this put you off reading as up to that point I was really torn and had a number of conspiracy theories myself and really cared what happened to most of the characters.

A book well worth a read and one that you will inhale as it flows so well.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. 

I had been waiting on the Library hold queue for this book for quite a while.  After seeing it mentioned by several friends and seeing the synopsis of it, I expected to be blown away by the story.  Not sure why I expected this, as I studiously avoided reading any reviews so as the story would not be spoiled for me, but I went into the book with high expectations.  

This was my mistake.  It was a "nice" book.  Well written with a good story concept.  It flowed well and I cared for the, relatively, few characters in the book.  As usual there is a but at this point.  The story concept was good but it just did not go the way I expected or wanted it to go.  Difficult to explain why without inserting spoilers but lets say if the author had focused on Rose's "gift" along with, say, her Grandfathers and Fathers to see where it came from, then I would have enjoyed it more.  Instead, the story went into Joseph's gift (or at least implied gift) which was just too strange for me and did not match the hereditary gifts of Rose, her Father and Grandfather.  Either the story of Joseph needs to be dropped or gone into in more detail.  I don't normally say a book needs to be longer (as most tend to be overwritten and too long) but this one left me with the feeling of reading a short story.  Where you are just starting to get into the story and then suddenly it is over.   

Another unnecessary part of the story is the affair that her mother is having (I don't class this as a spoiler as it comes out fairly early on and doesn't affect any other part of the story, in my opinion).

I expected this book to be about the emotions that this girl can feel in food but it seemed to lack emotion to me.  It was rather matter of fact in many areas, which I normally like, but I wanted more emotion as that is what I felt I had been promised from the marketing blurbs.

I have given it 3 stars out of 5 as it is a good little "short" story book and it may be more enjoyable to other people who go into it with different expectations to me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. 

This book looked rather ominous at first but as it was chosen for my book group I thought I had better give it a go.  It started quite well with what appeared to be an interesting and engaging story about the baseball genius that was Henry and the chap that discovered him in small town America, Mike Schwartz.  Then suddenly it threw a curve ball (pun totally intended!) and went into a historical story starting back in 1880 regarding the life of Herman Melville the author of Moby Dick.  It eventually became clear why the story had taken this path as this was the background to help the reader understand the character Guert Affenlight, so I forgave the author this huge jump across stories and kept on reading, and at the time, enjoying the book.

Unfortunately, this set the tone for the book with the story jumping to and fro, backwards and forwards amongst the cast of characters.  Honestly, I just could not follow the flow very well.  I did wonder at first whether this could be put down to my zero knowledge of baseball and, indeed, of Moby dick but it suddenly dawned on me that I just did not care what happened to any of the characters, not one single one of them.  They all came across as self-obsessed, whinging, whineing, narcissistic, unbelievable and many other such descriptive terms.  I only forced myself to finish the book as it was for book group.  It is highly unusual for me to have this feeling as I normally care enough about the story and/or characters to at least know how it all ends up for them and will finish a book even if it is not the most enjoyable of stories as I like to find out how it is all wrapped up.  This book was all, rather conveniently, wrapped up but again I just did not care.

I should have listened to my gut feeling when I picked up the book that I would not enjoy it.  A complete waste of reading time for me and my recommendation is to not fall for the hype surrounding this book and just give it a miss.  Even the most ardent baseball fans will probably not care for it and I still don't have a clue about baseball - what does a shortstop do anyway!!!