Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book Reviews

I have gotten a LOT of reading done lately.  I think it’s because A) I can’t sleep with this stupid brace on and B) I have happened to pick up some really compelling books as my reading selections. 

I am continuing to chip away at my reading challenges.  This past week, I read 2 young adult novels, both of which count towards different reading challenges, and 2 adult fiction books.

leftovers cover First, I read Laura Wiess’s Leftovers.  I had read Laura’s book Such a Pretty Girl quite some time ago (maybe 2 years?) and loved it, so I was excited to read Leftovers.  I got a copy on PBS and then I got very nervous, since people scrawled some rather uncomplimentary reviews about the ending in the inside front cover.  Still, it was important that I read it since I needed a book for the What’s in a Name challenge that had a food in the title.  This was my selection!

Leftovers tells the tale of Ardith and Blair, two girls trapped in families that seem to have abandoned them for totally different reasons.  Ardith’s parents are aging hippies who never left the drug and alcohol scene and whose son is following in their wasted footsteps.  Ardith copes by being a straight arrow, excelling in school, keeping her nose clean, all in a quest to someday become a podiatrist.  Blair, meanwhile, is being overshadowed by a mother who’s career as an attorney and ambition to become a judge cause her to completely change her family’s life, abandoning home, a beloved dog, and even her marriage in search for a seat on the bench.  Blair’s friendship with Ardith is a lifeline in a sea of change, until her mother attempts to even undermine that.  Ardith and Blair manage to stick together in the face of a number of bad situations and survive their family crises by sticking close.

I loved reading this book.  I loved how it ended and how the girls manage to resolve their family issues to their own satisfaction.  Of course, it was so calculating that I was also glad neither was my daughter, but I genuinely felt for both girls and wanted both of them to succeed.  The book bounces between Ardith and Blair as they both tell their story to a mutual friend.  At the end you find out exactly who that person is and why they do what they did.  It was really a great read, and I had a very difficult time putting it down.  I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

elsewhere The other YA book I read this month is Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere.  Again, several years ago, I read Zevin’s book Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, which I greatly enjoyed.  I got Elsewhere via PBS some time ago, and just put it aside as one of those things I would get there.  I decided to read it as a selection for the Twenty-Ten challenge as my second Young Adult book choice (the first was Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes).

Elsewhere is the story of Lizzie, a fifteen-year-old girl who wakes up to find herself on a cruise ship, dressed in white pajamas.  She discovers that she was in fact the victim of a hit and run accident on earth and has died, and the ship is taking her to “Elsewhere”, where all the dead go.  In Elsewhere, she is met by her grandmother, Betty, a woman she never met, as Betty died before Lizzie was ever born.  In Elsewhere, everyone ages backwards until they are again an infant, and then they are sent back to Earth to live another life.

The story chronicles Lizzie’s struggle to acclimate to life after death, missing her family and friends, coming to grips with what has happened to her, missing out on things like getting her driver’s license, and yet still learning of the opportunities to reach her potential in the afterlife.

This was another book that I had a real hard time putting down.  I only gave it 3 stars on GoodReads, because I didn’t feel it was a great read, but it was definitely a good, solid read.  I related to Lizzie’s struggles and could see myself making similar choices (for instance, spending a lot of time at the Observatory, where you can witness your loved ones back on Earth).  There was so much to love about the characters that Lizzie encountered as well, from Thandi, her cruise ship bunk mate, a tough cookie from DC who had been shot in the head, Owen, the man of her dreams who ages backwards at a near rate that Lizzie does, and Curtis, a rock star who has died of a drug overdose and becomes a kind of guru to Lizzie when she needs guidance and advice.

Eventually, as is no surprise, Lizzie ages backwards far enough to be returned to Earth as an infant, and I shed some tears as her grandmother lovingly lets her granddaughter go.  If Heaven is like Elsewhere, I suppose we could do a lot worse.

web-never-change1 Turning to adult fiction, the first book I read was Elizabeth Berg’s Never Change. Elizabeth Berg is an author I absolutely love, but I read her books rather sparingly as I find that they tend to cause me to weep rather hysterically.  I have read Talk Before Sleep exactly once, and I dare not read it again, as it just wiped me out.  I figured Never Change would be similar.  It follows the story of Myra Lipinsky, a visiting nurse who is suddenly assigned to care for Chip Reardon, her high school crush, who has chosen to forgo treatment for a brain tumor.  Myra was a quiet and reserved student and while Chip spoke to her once, she always admired him from afar.  She does not know what to make of their being thrown together, and becomes even more confused as their nurse-patient relationship develops into friendship.

Chip decides to spend much of his time reading.  He wants to learn about things and spends hours in the library, hoping to cram in as much knowledge as he can before he dies, although he recognizes the futility of being able to learn everything there is to know.  He and Myra discuss books and literature often.  I mention this as I am going to count this book towards the BBC challenge. :-)    Back earlier in the month when I had my scare with the blood clot in my arm, I spent my time reading books, and I even had the thought that if I knew it was time for me to go, I supposed I would spend my time reading my favorite books and feeling great comfort in being surrounded by stories and characters that I love.  Consequently, while this book did not touch me in a way that most of Berg’s previous titles did, I cannot deny that it was a book that impacted me on that level.

This book to me felt like Berg was trying to cram in a lot of thoughts about life and death that she felt were profound and would make a good book.  I thought the story of Myra emerging from her emotional cocoon into a world brightened by Chip’s friendship was a great one, and the story of Chip’s choice to end his life on his own terms was also compelling, but I could have done without the pontificating on life and death.  I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads.  It was Ok, but I didn’t totally love it.  This also counts as a Win! Win! on The Twenty Ten Challenge, since I am counting it towards the BBC Challenge as well.

41P4PP1602L__SL500_AA300_ Finally, I read the book When Katie Wakes by Connie May Fowler.  This is the true story of Fowler’s life lived under near constant abuse at the hands first of her mother and then of her abusive boyfriend.  Fowler was a young woman living in Florida and working as a bartender at a Bennigan’s after graduating with a degree in English.  She lives in near constant fear after meeting the man at her bar.  He talks her into the idea that only he can help her meet her potential as a writer, and that together they can take over the world and write amazing things together.

In fact, the man physically and mentally abuses Connie for years.  He drains her of her finances, what little self esteem she had, and constantly has her in fear for her life.  What keeps her sane is the love of her dog, Katie, and her emerging career working for a magazine.  She adopts Katie as a wormy and neglected puppy, and brings her home, against the wishes of the man she is with (he is never given a name, although often she writes as if she is speaking to him directly “You don’t come home” etc).  One night when the man gets particularly violent with her, Connie barricades herself in her bedroom with Katie, and they listen in terror while this man rages until he finally falls asleep.  That night, Connie makes the decision to leave him “when Katie wakes” up.

I learned so much from reading this book.  Often those of us who have not been in such a situation ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” but the cycle is so much more complex than that.  I appreciated Fowler’s bravery in sharing her story so that others may find the courage to leave or that they may understand and perhaps help those attempting to leave as well.

I am also going to count this book towards the BBC Challenge, as Connie writes of her love of books and writing and how that helped her through many difficult times with this man.  I was inspired to think of the books that have helped me through challenges in life, and I was able to name quite a few.  I have spent much of my current convalescence deeply enthralled by these books and others.  Reading is great escapism for those of us who occasionally need it!  I am also counting it as a charity book for the TwentyTen Challenge, as I picked this up in a library’s used book store.  And four stars on GoodReads, although I could probably have easily given it 5.

So, if you’re keeping track of my reading challenges, here’s my latest tally on the Twenty-Ten Challenge:

Young Adult:
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnston
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

TBR:
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

New in 2010:
Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Shiny and New:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine

Bad Bloggers
(None yet)

Charity
When Katie Wakes by Connie May Fowler

Older Than You:
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susanne

Win! Win!
Secrets from the Vinyl Café by Stuart McLean
Never Change by Elizabeth Berg

“Who Are You Again?”
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Riegler
The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

Up to You!
Crackhouse by Terry Williams
Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin

14/20 down!

BBC Challenge:

Ruined by Reading (Lynne Sharon Schwartz)
Confessions of a Jane Austin Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict (both by Laurie Viera Riegler)
Places I Never Meant to Be (Judy Blume, Editor)
When Katie Wakes (Connie May Fowler)
Never Change (Elizabeth Berg)

At six books, I am officially a Lit Lover.  I don’t know if I will make it to Bibliomaniac, but I am still hopeful!

What’s In A Name Challenge

Body of Water:  Your Oasis on Flame Lake (Lorna Landvik)
Food: Leftovers (Laura Wiess)
Music: Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe (Stuart McLean)
Place Name:
Plant:
Title:

Three books to go!!

I am abandoning ship on the British authors challenge, as I haven’t managed a single one yet.  C’est la vie!  Life gets in the way!

I have only managed to read 28 books total this year, and since I read 4 of them in the past 2 weeks, that’s kind of scary!!!  But I’m plugging away and we’ll see what happens.  I’m not exactly sitting on my rear end!

1 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Elettra said...

Ha! How cool! I love the way you write. I just started my own book review blog and have been checking people's blogs out just to get an idea of you all are doing. These reading challenges seem AMAZING! I'm going to look into doing some of those. Way to go on reading so many books already this year!!

:)