Saturday, April 28, 2007

Book Review: The Pearl

April 28, 2007

Who am I to review a classic by John Steinbeck? One of my big "jobs" in these next few weeks is to pick the nine novels that we'll read in the American Lit class I'm teaching next year for our enrichment class program. Boy, is it ever hard to pick just 9 classic books by American authors. I have somewhat narrowed down my list and am now reading those with a critical eye: Is this book appropriate for grades 9-12 in subject matter, comprehension, etc. Do the students have the world context necessary to understand the book? Does it represent something unique about life in the U.S.?

The Pearl is a timeless study of human nature, of the struggle between good and evil. It is fast-paced and readable--an excellent introduction to John Steinbeck. But it doesn't capture that facet of America that is so powerful in other Steinbeck novels, and so I will take this out of my stack of possibilities. Next up, Of Mice and Men.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Book Review: Crossing Over

April 27, 2007

Subtitled One Woman's Escape from Amish Life, this book by Ruth Irene Garrett leaves me feeling cheated. I simply don't trust her narrative. In her account, she leaves her abusive,stifling Amish family at age 21 for a 43-year-old, thrice-divorced, 450-lb. non-Amish man. (Of course, she prayed before she did this and apparently God told her this was OK.) Her life is then filled with letters from her family, which are supposedly reproachful but which mostly sound sad to me. (And why, exactly, is she sharing all these private letters, anyway? They don't add to the story.) I'm not saying she didn't have an authoritarian father, and I concede that the Amish belief system is legalistic. My beef is that this book seems to be a thinly disguised forum for a "poor me, I'm a victim" narrative. Also, she really takes Scripture and yields it as a dangerous weapon, justifying her behavior with all kinds of out-of-context verses. Methinks Ottie needs to get off his 400-lb. butt (according to the author, he is on a diet and has lost 53 lbs.) and get a job. And the author needs to deal with her demons in a less public forum.

Book Review: Jerusalem Vigil

April 27, 2007

My parents have been raving about this series by Bodie and Brock Thoene for quite some time, and I finally read the the first book. Phew. It was a quick read, but I had a terrible time keeping track of the huge cast of characters. This is one of those books that switches among 3-4 sets of characters every page, and I have a lot of trouble keeping up. (I can read Faulkner with his 4-page sentences much easier than I get read this kind of modern flash lit.) That said--and I did need to get that criticism off my chest--I did find this book interesting. The story takes place in 1948, just after the new State of Israel was created, and the Jewish and Muslim forces are fighting for control of the holy city. This is just the first book in the Zion Legacy series. I will read one more to see if I can become more caught up in the story; if not, Book 2 will be my last.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Book Review: My Sister's Keeper

April 18, 2007

I wasn't too crazy about the first Jodi Picoult book I read, The Pact; it was hard to put down but very dark. My Sister's Keeper, however, was even harder to put down and without the despair. The subject matter seems despairing enough: one sister, conceived specifically as a perfect genetic match for her leukemia-ridden sister, fights to be medically emancipated. Several other stories are woven in with this one, and all the side stories were compelling, as well. I wasn't sure I wanted to read another Picoult book after The Pact, but I'm glad I did.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Book Review: The Eyre Affair

April 16, 2007

Blech. That's what I have to say about this book by Jasper Fforde. I made myself read it, because I kept thinking it must get better. I read so many Book Bloggers who gave The Eyre Affair good reviews, that I thought there must be something redeeming in it eventually. But, boo. It nearly bored me with too much trying-to-be-clever-ness. The Time Traveler's Wife just handles the whole concept of time travel in such a superior, engaging fashion. I probably would have liked this when I was in my very early 20s, as I thought it was fun to read books that were like a game of wit-matching. Now I laugh at things like, "Mommy, what would happen if I were an evil bunny with red eyes?" Give me a good story. I'm just not in a clever season of life.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

April 12, 2007

So it goes.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1922-2007

"To whom it may concern: It is springtime. It is late afternoon." Literary giant Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., died today at the age of 84. He was the author of such classics as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. I became obsessed with Vonnegut in my senior year of college, and I even did an entire independent study class on him. I read every single novel and collection of Vonnegut. I began speaking like him and writing like him. I filled notebooks with his quotations, underlined and starred his works, and urged my friends to read him. I wanted desperately to meet him. I felt, in fact, as if I knew him quite well. He was a profound satirist and an acute reader of human nature. I believe he lived in a constant state of perplexity that humans could have so much beauty and so much cruelty. Kurt Vonnegut wasn't for everyone. Some were appalled by his brusqueness and his often disgusted assessment of humans. To me, he was the voice that spanned many generations.

"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center. "

Friday, April 6, 2007

Book Review: The Myth of You and Me

April 6, 2007

April is a good reading month thus far. I love this book by Leah Stewart. The story revolves around Sonia and Cameron, whose 8-year friendship came to an abupt and painful end many years before the story begins. Chapters go between past and present, as the mystery of their history is revealed and the present-day story unfolds. For me, this novel reflected one of those terrifying questions: what would my life be like without my best friend(s)? What does it take to end a friendship? And can you ever fix things? My assessment: good characterization, good dialogue, good story line.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Book Review: When Crickets Cry

April 4, 2007

This was our Book Club selection for April, and I absolutely loved this second novel by Charles Martin. I needed to read 3/4s of it Monday in order to be done for last night's Book Club meeting, and that was pure luxury. (After our day of enrichment classes, I felt totally justified in reading for the rest of the day and evening.) The first 60 pages were somewhat confusing, and we all agreed that he made a few mistakes in his opening chapters; however, as this is his second novel, we allowed Mr. Martin those mistakes because this was just an awesome story of redemption and renewal. Martin's dialogue was good (always a big point for me) and his characters likeable and familiar. I absolutely recommend this book and will search out his first and third books now, as well.