Home by Marilynne Robinson is a quiet tale of Jack and Mercy Boughton who return, as adults to their childhood home in Gilead, Iowa. Each of them stuggle with internal demons, their relationship with each other, the town and their father.Mercy is the fist to return, ostensibly to care for her elderly father, Reverend Boughton, but it is quickly revealed that she has few other options after leaving a failed relationship with a married man and a failed career as a teacher. As he approaches the end of his life, Reverend Boughton grapples with his inability both as a father and a clergyman to help his son Jack, the only failure among his loving and successful children. Subsequently, Jack Boughton, an alcoholic who has struggled with his relationship with his parents and siblings since childhood, returns home heartbroken, destitute and drunk. Each character struggles to make peace with their lives their relationships with one another. Jack's story parallels that of the biblical prodigal son, and his return home reopens old wounds, family dynamics and emotions. Robinson deftly develops all of the facets of Jack's personality into a very compelling anti-hero.
I must admit it; I am a sucker for the apocalypse, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy does not fail to deliver one of the bleakest apocalyptic scenarios I could imagine. The story of a father and son on a journey through the burnt out land where the sun never shines, and nothing grows is a far more realistic tale than the more common ones where the survivors band together and start anew.McCarthy's direct, spare writing enhances the tone of the book by creating a sense that nothing is to be wasted. There is no comfort or beauty, only survival on the basest level or death. What makes this novel readable is that McCarthy occasionally throws the characters a bone with the discovery of one remaining can of Coke in a looted store, or a boon of canned goods on a ship run ashore. Then just as you are easing your grip on the book and fanning the flame of hope the characters run into
The White Queen is a semi-historical novel revolving around the Plantagenet family's war between the Lancaster and York families. Caught in the middle is Elizabeth Woodville (a.k.a. the White Queen).The novel chronicles the Cousin's War in which cousins and brothers align forces and betray one another in turns in the hope that they will claim the throne. The most intriguing aspect of this novel is when Gregory develops a fictional theory that examines the fate of the missing princes in the Tower of London, whose fate still perplexes historians.Gregory's use of the mythical character of Melusina to weave her tale together was overdone at the start of the novel and seemingly forgotten about as the plot progressed, to be thrown in again at the end to wrap things up neatly.All in all this was a readable novel, but nothing groundbreaking or genius. It might be a good poolside read or a good book group read for December when everyone is too tired to really delve into a serious book.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is an examination of the relationships between the black domestic help and the white women they work for in the 1950's.The story is narrated from three points of view, two of whom are black domestic help and one of a white woman who decides to write their story.Help is certainly entertaining and it is a page turner. I really enjoyed it, but that being said, it lacks the layers and poetic language that make a novel resonate on a deep level with it's reader. The story, while interesting is fairly predictable. The good characters are saintly and the bad character is reprehensible on all levels. So, if you are looking for a deep and timeless read, this may not be for you. If you are looking for a good summer/vacation read, then this is your book.
What do Hamlet and The Jungle Book have in common? The answer is, strangely, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the first novel of David Wroblewski. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is an epic tale of family tragedy and a coming of age adventure. Throw in a plentitude of information about dog breeding and you have yourself a novel.Heavily referencing Hamlet (the tragedy part of the story) and The Jungle Book (the coming of age/sdventure part of the story), The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a compelling story with a sympathetic main character, Edgar who is deaf and forms a bond with a dog who essentially raises him as much as his human parents do, read Jungle Book. The story ends tragically in death and fire (again, think Hamlet).Wrobelewski is talented at weaving a compelling tale, and the characters are simultaneously unique and familiar. The shortcoming of this book is the abundance of information on dog breeding and training. Some information provides the reader with the necessary background for the novel, but Wrobelewski goes overboard and the excess causes the storyline to drag in parts (think Moby Dick and all of those chapters on whaling).All in all this was a good book, with the potential to be a great book. Wrobelewski knows his stuff and the characters are believable, but the plot lags in parts making it a bit of a slog rather than the page turner it wants to be.
Enzo is a dog who wishes to be reincarnated as a human. On the last day of his life he reflects on his life from puppyhood until the present moment. The narrator of The Art of Racing In The Rain, Enzo tells his life story with compassion, unfailing loyalty and a philosophical bent.The language is sometimes poetic and mostly believable coming from a canine storyteller. Occasionally, the narration veers off topic to movie reviews, or tv show, but perhaps these flights of fancy are to be expected of a dog.Aside from Enzo, the other characters in the novel are interesting, if a bit one-dimensional. Good characters are unfailingly good (Enzo, Denny, Eve, and Zoe) and bad characters are unfailingly bad (the twins). The only exception is a minor, but pivotal character named Annika.Denny, Enzo's master, is a talented and aspiring race car driver and Stein uses this vehicle (badump bump) to illustrate his philosophical points. The main philosophical thread that Stein weaves throughout the story is to live in the moment. Be present. Open you eyes (and ears and nose) to the wonders that surround us by being fully awake. This concept rings true as something a dog would be capable of. The others....such manifest your own destiny work for the art of race car driving. The storyline is compelling and believable if entirely predictable. Even the end is entirely expected, but that didn't stop it from being a tear jerker. Perhaps because in spite of being one dimensional Stein still makes his characters relatable and likable.The Art of Racing in the Rain is a fun book to read and would be enjoyed by people who have dogs and even those who do not (I fall into the latter and I still enjoyed it). The philosophical element keeps it interested without taking it out of the beach read/airplane trip category. Three barks and a tail wag for The Art of Racing in The Rain.
Who would have thought the subject of writing and writers could be so funny? Anne Lamott had me laughing out loud while she did what she does best: using her humor to illuminate a subject, in this case writing.Lamott's advice is honest and encouraging and of course, funny. From getting started to publishing Lamott offers simple practical suggestions. Her hilarious observations, comments and disclosures about her own journey as a writer and a human being set this book apart from all other books about writing.This book is for anyone who writes, would like to write or enjoys Anne Lamott's books.
If you liked the Glass Castle or Liar's Club, then you will love this novel by Liz Murray. Murray takes the reader through the rabbit hole and into her stranger than fiction tale of her journey from being the child of homeless and addicted parents to her acceptance at Harvard. Murray's memoir is filled with heartbreaking, insightful and compassionate observations about her childhood and adolescence. The narrative is well written and so compelling that it was hard to put down. A must read!
Atlas of Unknowns is an impressive first novel by Tania James. The story of two Indian sisters, Linno, artistically gifted, harmed both physically and emotionally by a tragic accident in her childhood and Anju, academically gifted, and harmed by a past event that she buries deep inside.James gets to the heart of the complexities of sibling, familial and cultural relationships. She is adept at teasing apart the events and emotions that bond and separate sister, parents and children and draws the reader into the post 9/11 world of immigrants in the United States.I found the beginning of this book a bit slow, I was not swept away with the current, but rather warmed to it and found myself being carried downriver despite my initial misgivings. The plot is essentially this; A betrayal between the two sisters sends Anju (the betrayer) on a scholarship to the U.S. that separates the sisters geographically. Eventually the space and experience of isolation allows them to grow closer emotionally. It is interesting, but nothing groundbreaking.The true strength of the novel lies in James' ability to develop her characters into complex and realistic people. Even the auxiliary characters are compelling and bring an additional depth to the story.The language of this novel is what falls short. This is the kind of book that cries out for beautiful prose, and while James writing is unarguably readable it lacked a poetic quality that the settings and situations seemed to need in order to transform them to high-definition images for the reader.Overall, this is certainly a rewarding book to read and a really strong writing debut by Tania James.
What a treat! I really enjoyed this book and read it from cover to cover in a few days. This is the second in a two book series about a character named Tobie Lolness, but it's not necessary to read the first book to understand this one. Tobie exists in a world too small for the human eye to notice easily. The human-like characters are bee sized and live in and on a great tree and the grasses surrounding it. Fombelle has the magic touch of creating a fantasy world that has enough of a human element to be believable and relatable. As a former middle school English teacher, I began to read this book, which I assumed was for the YA crowd from a teaching perspective, but I found myself enjoying this book aside from that viewpoint.The novel's themes are rich and varied; struggle and oppression, ecology, friendship, and what constitutes a family. Fombelle has a knack for introducing these themes in manner that gets the point across, but is not too brutal for younger readers to be able to read and understand. While it doesn't deal specifically with the Holocaust, a large part of the novel deals with one group of prisoners in a work camp struggling under the oppression of another group who use brutality and fear to persecute. in It would be a really nice compliment to an eighth grade unit on the Holocaust. Another aspect of this novel that I think is brilliant from a teaching perspective is that it would be appealing to boys and girls. It has the same delicate balance that JK Rowling uses in the Harry Potter series. A strong central male character, and a compelling female secondary character. Fombelle uses a well balanced combination of action and relationships that I think would appeal to both genders.For people of any age, the author's ingenious creation of a tiny human world is intriguing and entertaining. His use of details like bee exoskeleton armor and grass blade canoes are simultaneously fanciful and realistic.This book has all of the ingredients of a great read for adolescents and adults alike.