Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: South of Broad

I'm squeezing in one last review of 2010 in between New Year's Eve appetizer courses. I had the luxury of reading for several uninterrupted hours the past couple of days and managed to finish one last book: Pat Conroy's South of Broad.

First of all, I should say that Conroy is a master storyteller. I'm just not sure that I liked this story. I was mesmerized by the first few sections, but it took so many bizarre twists and turns that I'm still kind of recovering.

The main action takes place in Charleston, SC, with a cast of eclectic friends including Toad, the narrator (who is the son of a Catholic nun), a pair of orphans, theatrical twins, two black teens in a sea of white, and a few Charleston high-society types.

Conroy spans about 30 years, covering everything from suicide to integration to socioeconomic prejudice to AIDs to child abuse to insanity and just about everything in between. And there's lots of graphic sex of all kinds (including rape and incest), blood, gore, and plenty of tragedy. I'm exhausted just thinking about the roller coaster I've been on with Toad and his friends the past few days. It was all just too much. Just one of the storylines could have made a great novel, but so many dramas mixed into one novel just makes chaos.

One question that kept rising to the surface as I read through the chapters was this: Does anyone really live like this? Is this actually reflective a real person's life? I just can't buy it.

Yesterday when I was about 1/8th of the way through the novel, I told my husband I loved it. Tonight, upon finishing, I say, "Good riddance."

Other Reviews of South of Broad
The Literate Housewife
Medieval Bookworm
Jen's Book Thoughts
Alison's Book Marks

Book Review: Tell Me About Orchard Hollow

I had absolutely nothing new to read and the library was closed for Christmas, so I borrowed this book by Lin Stepp from my parents' library stack. The novel is one in a series that takes place in the next town over from where I live, at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

It was cheesy, and I loved it. It's one of the most often told story lines of all: innocent girl marries bad man who cheats, girl meets good man, girl and good man fall in love. I didn't know I was such a sucker for a romance novel. I needed one in my life, I guess. It was fun reading a novel that takes place in my county. The author lives in Knoxville and teaches at a nearby college, so I guess she knows the area well. Her love of our beautiful place is evident.

There isn't anything award-winning about this novel. It's kinda silly and trite and really sweet, and it was exactly what I needed to read over Christmas weekend. I will probably even pick up the rest of her Smoky Mountain series at some point. If you live near the Smokies, you'll probably like it. If you like happily-ever-after books, you'll probably like it. If you're looking for great writing and profound moments, skip it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

End-of-2010 Book Survey

The Perpetual Page-Turner has a fun End-of-2010 survey going on. Click on the link to add your list.

1. Best Book of 2010: I went back through my list on my sidebar to look at all the books I'd given 5 stars.
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)
Girl in Translation (Jean Kwok)
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)
Mockingbird (Katherine Erskine)
My Name Is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok)
Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)
Still Alice (Lisa Genova)

They are all amazing books, well worth the 5-star rating. But I think I'm going to have to pick Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation as my favorite. I just loved it.

2. Worst book of 2010? My only 1-star rating went to Devil Amongst the Lawyers (Sharyn McCrumb). I hate to give a Sharyn McCrumb book my worst book of the year because I truly love her mountain novels in general. But this one was actually painful to get through, and I kind of get a headache when I even think about it. Sorry, Ms. McCrumb.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010? Again, McCrumb's book was a big disappointment because I have loved her others so much.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? I'm going to go with Picture Bride (Yoshiko Uchido). I picked this one up for about 50 cents and had no expectations. Never heard a thing about it. It was an excellent little novel that brought me to tears. I loved it.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? Girl in Translation.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? I've only been part of one series, and I must admit to loving it: Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, beginning with One for the Money. I've only finished four of them so far, so I'll have plenty of those to plow through when I need something light and fun.

7. Favorite new (to me) authors you discovered in 2010? Elizabeth Strout, Lisa Genova, Jean Kwok.

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie) and Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers). Both are sharp and witty but also terribly poignant. Loved both of them.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010? Again, I'm going to the Absolutely True Diary. I'm not sure I would use the words "thrilling" for any of the books I read, but I had a terrible hard time putting down this Sherman Alexie novel/memoir.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? Last Night at Twisted River (John Irving). I always anticipate any new John Irving novel. I think this was the very first book I read this year.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? Center of the Universe (Nancy Bachrach) Didn't like this memoir much, but I love the cover.

12. Most memorable character in 2010? Olive Kitteridge in Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? My Name Is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok)

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? In some ways, probably Beautiful Boy (David Sheff). This is the story of Sheff dealing with his son's drug addiction. Just having a teenaged son myself made this book especially memorable.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? My Name Is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok). I've been meaning to read this for 23 years, since one of my good friends in college said it was her favorite book.

That's a quick review of this year's reading. Coming up in a few days, I'll be posting my Top 10 and the whole list. I look forward to reading dozens of these surveys at The Perpetual Page-Turner and adding a bunch more to my own TBR list!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Clicking the photo will allow you to see most of the residents of SmallWorld, who are all voracious readers.

Personal reading reminder for next year: the library closes on December 23. Ouch.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Reviews:Reading Janet Evanovich

So my sister-in-law has been telling me for years that I need to read Janet Evanovich. Then several of my friends confessed that Evanovich is their guilty pleasure and finally persuaded me to read the Stephanie Plum series. So yep, I started and I haven't yet been able to stop.

This is a pretty weird thing for me. I like the idea of a series, but I despise reading books 1 and 2 and then waiting years for book 3. I never get back to series like that, with the exception of the Ladies No. 1 Detective series. But I've got 15 years of Evanovich books to read, so I should be well occupied for awhile.

Except that, well, I'm getting a bit tired of Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter. The books are really fun and addictive, if you haven't read them yet. I've now finished One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Ready, and Four to Score. I'm ready for something deep and maybe even a bit troubling. Definitely something thought-provoking. So sometime in the next couple of days, before everything closes down for Christmas, I'm heading to the library with my TBR list.

And maybe I'll pick up High Five and Hot Six while I'm there. After all, if I'm going to sit around and eat Christmas cookies and Chex mix, I might as well read Janet Evanovich.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Fluff Reading and Traumatic Watching

* I've been immersed in Janet Evanovich these past couple of weeks. I'm on book 3 in her Stephanie Plum series, and while I'm enjoying the books tremendously, I'm going to have to take a break after this one and read something a bit more substantial.

* Besides The Sunday Salon, Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books and the Book Review Carnival are a couple of great places to find new titles. I add a few new items to my TBR list through those sources.

* We saw a book-to-movie today: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It was terribly disappointing for anyone who is a true Narnia fan. I will never understand why movies have to be such tremendous deviations from books. I just don't get it. On the bright side, my kids (10 and 13) did like the movie. We just finished re-reading the book on Friday, but they weren't traumatized by the movie like I was. I actually was envisioning myself ripping the screen to shreds. Then again, I've been reading this book for over 30 years. They've only heard it twice.

* Next on my list is Sara Gruen's Ape House. I've read a couple of bad reviews, so I'm not feeling terribly excited about it. But I sure did love Water for Elephants.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Sunday Salon: November in Review

Books Read in November
(click for review)
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
Juvenile Fiction: When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park; Tangerine by by Edward Bloor; Crazy Lady by Jane Leslie Conly

Favorite Book of the Month
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. Absolutely fantastic!

Books Read to the Kids
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Up Next
I might spend all of December reading Janet Evanovich. I blame my friends Laurie, Sarah, and Rachel.

Movies from Books Watched
Like Water for Chocolate. I actually think I liked the movie better than the book!
Prince Caspian. So the first time I saw the movie, I hadn't read the book in probably 5 years. This time, we had just finished reading the book. Wow! We were all flabbergasted by the changes from book to movie.

Books Added to My Ever-Growing TBR List
Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (our book club pick for January)
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (reviewed at Lesa's Book Critiques)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Review: Abide with Me

It's 1959 in rural Maine. Reverend Tyler Caskey can't shake the shroud of grief that envelops him after his young wife's death, and his neglected little daughter is becoming the town's least favorite child. Throughout the first two-thirds of the book, the minister and his daughter are drowning and the townspeople, once adoring parishioners, begin to take a sort of glee in bringing about their downfall.

Elizabeth Strout, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, is an absolute pleasure to read. I picked Abide with Me up at the library just as soon as I'd finished Olive Kitteridge, and I'll be heading back out to get Amy and Isabelle as soon as possible. She's that good.

Like Olive Kitteridge, Abide with Me is full of fascinating characters. Strout is one of those authors that has an uncanny knack of stripping away the excess and slapping the reader in the face with a dose of familiarity. Anyone who has ever gloated for even a second over someone's failure will feel a pang of shame when Strout describes the guilt of the townspeople after they've nearly gossiped their minister to death.

I was also terribly impressed with Strout's ability to get inside the head of Caskey as a minister. Caskey is always comparing himself with the theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I found fascinating. Years (decades?) ago I saw the play The Beams are Creaking, about Bonhoeffer's life, so I found Strout's weaving of Bonhoeffer's theology with Caskey's thoughts pretty amazing. (That makes Abide with Me sounds like a heavy, theological novel, and it's not. I just found that part interesting on a personal level.)

I definitely enjoyed this one as much as Olive Kitteridge, although I think Olive Kitteridge is more memorable for me. Highly recommended.

Other Reviews of Abide with Me
Home Girl's Book Blog: "The story Strout tells is sensitive and unflinchingly true. The writing is (as always) careful, lyrical, and evocative."
World's Strongest Librarian: "Abide With Me is a melancholy book, shot through with moments of brilliant joy and truth."
Semicolon: "Ms. Strout apparently knows something about small town life and about being a pastor or a pastor’s wife, even though the blurb says she lives in New York City."
Mommy Brain: "The members of Tyler’s church are such a varied bunch, and in Tyler’s hour of need, they demonstrate some of the worst of human nature. But they also demonstrate some of the best."