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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins

The Shadow Catcher

Narrated in the first person by a reimagined writer named Marianne Wiggins, the novel begins in Hollywood, where top producers are eager to sentimentalize the complicated life of Edward Curtis as a sunny biopic: ""It's got the outdoors. It's got adventure. It's got the do-good element."" Yet, contrary to Curtis's esteemed public reputation as servant to his nation, the artist was an absent husband and disappearing father. Jump to the next generation, when Marianne's own father, John Wiggins (1920-1970), would live and die in equal thrall to the impulse of wanderlust.

Were the two men running "from" or running to? Dodging the false beacons of memory and legend, Marianne amasses disparate clues -- photographs and hospital records, newspaper clippings and a rare white turquoise bracelet -- to recover those moments that went unrecorded, "to hear the words only the silent ones can speak." "The Shadow Catcher," fueled by the great American passions for love and land and family, chases the silhouettes of our collective history into the bright light of the present.

Hmmm, a difficult one to review.  The story of Edward Curtis and the separate story of Marianne Wiggins were both very interesting concepts.  

I loved the story of Edward Curtis but felt that the author did not go into enough detail for me.  I was frustrated at the way she seemed to summarise a lot of it and gloss over a lot that, I felt, was important to this part of the story.  This story should have been a book in itself and I would have loved to read it.

On the other side, the current  story of Marianne Wiggins was over done.  It had an interesting baseline, the loss of her father and the mistaken/stolen identity of her father.  I thought she rambled on too much about what was going around in her mind which did not add anything to the story the book was trying to tell.  I was also left with so many unanswered questions, why Curtis Edwards stole the identity, who was Clarita and how was she related to Edward Curtis and Clara and so many more.  

Still a fairly interesting read and it will make a good book group discussion but not one that I would say everyone should rush out and read.

3 out of 5 for me.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's Key

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

What a stunning and poignant story.  I never knew this happened in France during the war, well at least not to this degree.  The author started off just right with the balance between Sarah's real time story and Julia, the journalists current story.  She hit just the perfect amount of sympathy for me without being overly soppy.  I started off reading it and not wanting to put it down as I wanted to discover, so desperately, what happened to Sarah and her brother.

It did lose it's way a little for my in the last third of the book and some of the endings were overly convenient and a bit contrived for me.

I gave it 4 out of 5 but do feel guilty about dropping that one star, given that I still think it is a must read for everyone.  I am now looking forward to watching the movie which has one of my favourite actors in it, Kristin Scott Thomas.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

This book should get the prize for the most interesting title and the author should get a prize for the best character development of all time.  A Young Adult novel so not aimed at me as the prime target audience but somehow, once again, he make sme relate very deeply to the main characters to which I have nothing in common.  As with his book, Last night I sang to the monster, I related very deeply to a 15 to 17 year old boy with serious identity, confidence, and other issues.

A book that just kept me reading.  I had kind of guessed the end but the author handled it rather beautifully and undramatically.

This author is now on my favourite authors list (if there was actually such a list other than in my mind!).

5 out of 5 from me.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Firefly Lane

From the New York Times bestselling author of On Mystic Lake comes a powerful novel of love, loss, and the magic of friendship. . . .

In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all---beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.

So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.

From the beginning, Tully is desperate to prove her worth to the world. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she longs to be loved unconditionally. In the glittering, big-hair era of the eighties, she looks to men to fill the void in her soul. But in the buttoned-down nineties, it is television news that captivates her. She will follow her own blind ambition to New York and around the globe, finding fame and success . . . and loneliness. 

Kate knows early on that her life will be nothing special. Throughout college, she pretends to be driven by a need for success, but all she really wants is to fall in love and have children and live an ordinary life. In her own quiet way, Kate is as driven as Tully. What she doesn’t know is how being a wife and mother will change her . . . how she’ll lose sight of who she once was, and what she once wanted. And how much she’ll envy her famous best friend. . . .

For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship---jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart . . . and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.

Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you---and knows what has the power to hurt you . . . and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you’ll never forget . . . one you’ll want to pass on to your best friend.

A book group choice and I am quite torn about my review.  It started really well and I could relate to the story and the characters quite well - being of a similar age to me - but then it lost it's way in the middle.  It was a good 150 pages too long with far too much going on in the middle that was wholly unnecessary to the main story.  It was also full of cliches throughout which did start to grate on my nerves at times.

What kept me reading (and, on the whole, enjoying) the book was that I could relate separately to both the main characters.  Tully reminded me of life as a career woman, always working so much that it was difficult to find the time to cultivate close friendships with people, or indeed keep a marriage going smoothly!  Everyone thinks they know you and make their own judgements without actually knowing the person behind the business persona.  Then came Kate, the intelligent, successful woman that decided to be a stay at home mum and devoting her entire life to her husband and kids.  The place I am in now as a stay at home wife and Mother where some people think I have sacrificed my career for it, just the position Kate finds herself in.

What brought this book back from the less than 3 star review was the ending.  I was so worried that the author was going to go for a terribly cliched ending but she surprised me.  I found myself reading the last 100 or so pages while floating on my pool yesterday and even in that peaceful and idyllic surrounding, I was in floods of tears.  Any book that can melt the Ice Queen deserves a high rating.

I couldn't quite bring myself to give it 5 out of 5 because of the cliches and excess in the middle but did give it 4 out of 5.  This would make a great holiday book, where you don't have t concentrate too hard in the middle but are given a great ending.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale View of Hills

In his highly acclaimed debut, A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. Retreating into the past, she finds herself reliving one particular hot summer in Nagasaki, when she and her friends struggled to rebuild their lives after the war. But then as she recalls her strange friendship with Sachiko - a wealthy woman reduced to vagrancy - the memories take on a disturbing cast.

I normally praise this authors writing very highly, particularly that the books do not read like they have been written in English as a second language.  This usually impresses me as my language abilities are non-existent.  I can not say the same, sadly, about this debut novel.  It read like it had been written in a second language (which it was) and was just too formal in it's casual conversations.  At first I thought this was due to the Japanese formality of the characters, but over time it became apparent that this was not the intention.

The story itself was ok but not of the highly entertaining standard I have come to expect from this author.  I think I, somehow, missed an important point of the novel.  I am glad I did not read this debut novel as a first book of this author or I may not have gone onto read some of his other, great books, like "Never Let me go".  

If you have read every other book by this author ad want to complete the collection, then it is not a complete waste of time but, otherwise, don't bother.  2 out of 5 from me.

The Rector's Wife by Joanna Trollope

Rector's Wife

Anna Bouverie is the rector's wife. She irons his surplices (badly), delivers the parish newsletter, and scrimps to get by on a pittance, all the while keeping up appearances. She rarely complains and rarely rebels. But now-as she watches her children do without, as her husband withdraws further into his work, and her frustration mounts into fury-Anna realizes that she's willing to do whatever it takes to save herself...

Well this novel was just "Blah".  It reminded me a lot of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (see review Here).  It was quite a dull story, full of dull characters that did not give me any enjoyment whatsoever!  Why did I finish it then?  Well, I kept thinking that there was going to be great, big twist that would make it worthwhile to read.  Sadly, I got to the end without anything worthwhile happening.

I am also struggling to give a lot of praise to the author.  Her style was also "Blah" and had no real defining features (in my opinion).  I wouldn't say she was a bad writer but just not one that stood out for me amongst the numerous writers that are available out there.  I certainly won't be looking out for any more of her books to read.

Don't waste your time on this novel or author.  1 out of 5 for just getting this story published!