Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Cabin Reading

I am spending the week at my parent’s summer place on a lake in southern Indiana with lots of reading time available.  So far, I have read three books.  The first two books I had gotten at the Goodwill shop and had never heard of either of them.

The first book that I read was Surrender, Dorothy by Meg Wolitzer, which came out in 1999.  I was completely under whelmed by this novel.  The funny thing is that when I checked on Amazon what year the novel was published, I noticed that it is now out-of-print and my first thought was, oh, I better hold on to this book!  On second thought, however, why?  I didn’t care that much for it.

Thirty year old Sarah is still in school, a graduate student studying Japanese history.  She is beginning to think that she might always be in school.  Her best friend is Adam, a gay playwright who has had his first major success. The story takes place as the month of   August begins, the month when Sarah and Adam, along with Maddie and Peter always rent the same beach house.  Maddie and Peter are married and have a seven month old baby, so the baby, Duncan, is new to their summer arrangement.  Also, this particular year, Adam has invited his newest boyfriend, Shawn, who is also staying at the house.  They all meet at the summer house sometime after lunch.  Sarah and Adam spend the afternoon unpacking and napping, while waiting for the others to arrive.

The group fixed a late dinner consisting of lobster and beer, and then later in the evening, they decided that they wanted ice cream from the local ice cream shop.  Adam and Sarah go out for the ice cream, and on the way home, Sarah is killed in a car accident.

All of this occurs in Chapter One.  The rest of the book is about how Sarah’s mother, Natalie, copes with her daughter’s death.  Sarah and Natalie were uncomfortably close, telling each everything (including their sexual exploits) ever since Sarah was a young girl.  Understandably, Natalie is devastated by Sarah’s death, and even refuses to allow Sarah’s friends to attend the funeral.  After the funeral, Natalie decides to go to the beach house to stay with Sarah’s friends in order to know/learn everything about Sarah’s life.

The rest of the book is about the week that Natalie is there at the beach house and how each of the people there deal with the loss and grief.  I just didn’t connect with it.  It may have been from the inappropriate, strangling relationship that Sarah and Natalie had.  I’m not sure.  I just didn’t care much for the story.

“Surrender, Dorothy” was the greeting that every phone call began with between Natalie and Sarah.  It was about their shared passion from the movie The Wizard of Oz.  I found that rather symbolic, both in terms of their relationship and in Sarah’s death.  But certainly an odd, strange way to begin every single phone conversation.

The second book that I read was Blood Memory by Greg Iles, published in 2005.  I could not put it down.  Great story!!

The first line of the book: “When does murder begin?”  That got my attention!

Dr. Catherine (“Cat”) Ferry is a forensic odontologist, which means that she specializes in bite marks.  Cat is well-respected in her field, but her private live is a mess.  She is alcoholic and has been quite sexually active over the years.  She is presently involved with a married police detective, and has learned that she is pregnant. There is a serial killer in New Orleans, where Cat lives and as she goes to each murder scene, she begins getting more disturbed with anxiety attacks, then passing out at one sight.  Cat flees to her childhood home in Natchez.    

Cat’s father was murdered when she was eight years old at the family home in Natchez.  She quit speaking for a year following his murder.  She was raised by her mother and they lived in the slave quarters of her grandfather’s home.  The grandfather is a very domineering, well-connected surgeon in Natchez.

When Cat arrives at her home, she leaves her bag of forensic chemicals in her room and the housekeeper’s great-granddaughter accidentally spills some of the chemicals on the floor.  Two bloody footprints show up on the carpet.  She begins to wonder if the footprints are related to her father’s murder decades ago.

Cat begins to have recurring nightmares, and begins to put some pieces of her past together.  Meanwhile, the investigations of the murders in New Orleans are pulling her back there, too.  Soon, it appears that the murders in New Orleans may be related to Cat’s history.

This is a book that delves into fascinating psychological issues, including disassociation and repressed memories.  I loved it.  And I couldn’t put it down!  I have to admit that it was quite evident to me early on who had killed her father and why, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the book at all…Great read!  

And the third book that I finished is When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair by Geneen Roth.   As you may know, I read Women Food and God a few months ago (also by Ms. Roth) and loved it.  I had read some of her other books years ago, and, obviously, at the time, did not put them into practice!  Anyway, When You Eat at the Refrigerator is “50 Ways to Feel Thin, Gorgeous, and Happy (When You Feel Anything But”.  It consist of 50 short chapters each devoted to removing obstacles that keep us from realizing who we really are and what our loves and strengths are.

I found this book to be very practical and very thought-provoking.  Randomly, some of the examples of the chapters are: Cultivate Curiosity, Act on Your Own Behalf, Carry a Chunk of Chocolate Everywhere, Wear Your Special Occasion Clothes Any Old Day, Lagniappe, When Things Begin To Fall Apart, Let Them…and so many more chapters.  You get the idea!

Whether you are focused on losing weight, or on feeling better physically or emotionally, I think that this book has much to offer.  Right now I would say that the chapter that has had the biggest impact on me is Be Fully Present for Five Minutes Every Day.  The point of that for me was to appreciate what is happening in my life right at the present moment instead of being caught up in what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future.  Just enjoy RIGHT NOW!

I found this to be a book of very relevant wisdom for happiness.  Ms. Roth is a humorous, wise writer!

So that is what I have read over the past few days.  I am still here at the cabin for at leasst another day, perhaps two.  What to read, what to read???

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Exile of Sara Stevenson

I sometimes (okay, often) wish that I were an author.  Then I would feel more like I have the right to be somewhat critical of other's writing.  But then again, I am a reader, so I guess that gives me some rights!

The Exile of Sara Stevenson by Darci Hannah is a "historical novel", taking place in 1814-1815.  I didn't care too much for the writing.  I stuck with the story waiting to see the promise of "boundaries between time and space unravel to forge an incredible connection between a woman and a man many years apart" (from the back cover).  That sounded pretty fascinating to me.  It ends up that it just didn't grab me.  I never found the story to be very believable.

Sara is a young women of a wealthy Scottish family who fell in love with Thomas Crichton, a common sailor.  She became pregnant with his child and they made plans to run off to be married, but the day that she is to meet up with Thomas to run away, he never comes.  Her family sent her away to an island to have the baby.  Sara continued to believe that Thomas would come and find her and take her away.  Meanwhile, upon the island is the lighthouse keeper, William Campbell.  After some time, Sara began to have interest in William.  About that time, letters began to arrive for Sara from an antiquarian from Oxford that contain some clues about Thomas.

I won't tell anymore of the story so if anyone cares to read the book, I won't spoil the ending.  Suffice to say, I was very disappointed with the ending.  I thought it was very weak.

Beatrice and Virgil

Ok, I have to confess it right here and now: I have not read Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  So I had no expectations for Beatrice and Virgil (also by Martle) when it was chosen by my book group for our August meeting.  Sad to say, that after reading Beatrice and Virgil, I am still no closer to wanting to read Life of Pi.

Beatrice and Virgil is a very interesting book, in that there is so much to ponder and discover.  I am sure that if I read it over and over, I would find more.  I think that there are many layers to the story.  My simple version of the story is that it appears to be an allegory for the Holocaust. 

from the front inside cover:
"Fate takes many forms...When Henry receives a letter from an elderly taxidermist, it poses a puzzle that he cannot resist.  As he is pulled further into the world of this strange and calculating man, Henry becomes increasingly involved with the lives of a donkey and a howler money-named Beatrice and Virgil-and the epic journey they undertake together."
Henry is an author who is working on a "flip book" about the Holocaust and the publishers are not interested in his book.  One day he recieved a large envelope with a copy of a short story by Gustave Flaubert, "The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator."  Parts of the story were high-lighted.  Also in the envelope were papers clipped together that seemed to be parts of a play about Beatrice and Virgil-a donkey and a monkey.  There was also a note, asking for help.

Henry tracks down the sender of the envelope and finds an older man who has a taxidermist shop.  Thus Henry's adventures begin.

For me, the most interesting part of the book were the last few pages where "Games for Gustav" are.  I found them profound, disturbing and very moving.  I will list the first one for you.  There are 13 of them. 

Game Number One:
"Your ten-year-old son is speaking to you.  He says he has found a way of obtaining some potatoes to feed your starving family.  If he is caught, he will be killed.  Do you let him go?"
And they get harder than that as they go along. 

I know that this is not much of a review for the book.  I just found it too complicated and confusing to try to tell much of the story.  Do I recommend the book to readers?  No, I can't think of anyone that I would recommend this book to.  However, I am glad that I read it.  It certainly made me think.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Two Suspense Books!

I just finished 2 suspense/mystery books, not my usual genre, but they were both good.  To add to the pile, we also watched both versions of Cape Fear in the last week!  Maybe it is the heat that is getting to us.  We need good diversions!

I finished the trilogy with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson.  It ended up being my least favorite of the three.  It was a very good story, but way too "wordy"...it seemed to me that the story could have been told in a 1/3 of the book size. In this story Lizabeth Salander does not play as prominent role as she did in the first two books, although, of course, the story centers around her.  The story was basically everyone trying to figure out how the government maintained such a large cover-up for so many years.  That is the incredibly simple version of my  summary of the book!

We watched the movie Shutter Island recently and I decided that I wanted to read the book to see if there was more to it.  Oddly enough, this is one of those very rare times that the movie was better than the book.  The book was ok and I kept trying to figure out if I would have liked the book better if I had not seen the movie, but I don't think so.  The story is of a Federal Marshall who goes to help find an inmate that has gone missing on Shutter Island.  The island is home to a prison for the criminally insane.  It is a really good story that has some good twists to it in the end.  If you are into psychology, etc. see the movie!  I guarantee you will enjoy it!  The book?  Again, not as good as the movie.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My new reading chair...on my new reading porch!

Check out my new reading chair!  My wonderful husband screened in the porch off of our bedroom this month and, of course, it makes for the most wonderful reading area!  So the search for the best outside reading chair began...I found just what I wanted at Target on-line!  In my favorite color!  Now if the heat would just subside, I could spend hours out there!