Tag Archive | novel

Book Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects was a novel that I chose from the library’s website, simply based on the author.  You have probably heard of Gillian Flynn; she wrote Gone Girl, which became an international bestseller and was turned into a movie.  I read Gone Girl a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty interesting, so I decided to check this one out!

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects is the story of Camille, a young woman who grew up in small town Missouri and moved to Chicago the first chance she had to escape a dysfunctional family.  She was one of the lucky ones it seems.  Camille is sent home by her newspaper editor to cover an unsolved serial murder with very few leads.  In order to dig up information for her story, she has to interact with the family and friends she has left behind, who have never really changed.

Camille stays with her mother and stepfather, and is subjected to the strange way her mother has of attempting to control her, even though she is now 30.  And she gets to know her strange, self-absorbed 13 year old stepsister, who was a toddler when Camille was last living at home.  Let’s just say there’s a lot of creepy in that family…

There are a series of twists and turns as Camille befriends the FBI agent on the case, and confronts her alcoholism and mental illness along the way.  You might think you know how the book will turn out, but don’t be so sure…

4 stars. 

Book Review: The Testaments

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood

I read The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, in college in 1995; it was assigned reading in an American literature class (we will set aside the fact that Atwood is Canadian).  It was so interesting.

The book follows the idea of a United States (now called Gilead) that experiences a takeover by a totalitarian, Puritanical regime, and people are segregated into roles.  Commanders (those running the country), Wives, Marthas (servants), The Eyes (the security force).  The book focuses on the role of the Handmaid, the women who are selected to be breeders for the Commanders; a necessity because some unspecified ecological disaster has caused infertility in most people.

The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, and in recent years has become wildly popular, with modern-day readers drawing parallels (whether real or imagined) with the current political climate. Hulu picked up the rights and created a television series, which is very well done.

Atwood wrote a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, called The Testaments; it was published in 2019, almost 35 years after the original novel.  It picks up with the stories of Gilead, 15 years later.  An active underground continues to try to destabilize and overthrow the government of Gilead and restore the United States.  Gilead is showing cracks in the system.  It follows the stories of three individual women whose lives are woven together.  All strong women; Atwood doles out their secrets over time and reveals a backstory that the reader might not have guessed.

The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2)

Again, Atwood writes a novel that draws the reader in and holds your interest, but unfortunately I didn’t find it quite as compelling as the original novel.  Although I’m sure that people will be talking about both for years to come.

3 stars.

Book Review: The Good Girl

Sometimes I pick novels because they are available at the library, and they look interesting. This was one of those. I read the description, checked it out, downloaded it on my I-Pod and then promptly forgot about it for several months.

So when I finally started to listen to it, I couldn’t remember a thing about why I had been interested…

 

The Good Girl, by Mary Kubica, is a thriller that documents the kidnapping and disappearance of Mia, the young adult daughter of a judge in Chicago. She is gone for several months before finally making her way home, safe. However, she has no memories of her time with her kidnapper.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, through the perspective of Mia’s mother, the lead detective on the case, and Mia’s kidnapper. Time is divided into before and after Mia returns to her family. Little by little, the story of her disappearance and time in captivity is revealed.

There are a series of twists and turns, some you might expect and some you won’t.  I won’t give it away, but I’ll just leave you with this – you won’t guess the ending… An excellent keep-you-on-your-toes novel!

Book Review: The Signature of All Things

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked out this novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love.  I was looking for an audiobook that was available without waiting from the library website.  All I knew is that it was a historical novel, telling the story of the fictional Alma Whitaker.

The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert

Alma was “born with the century,” in 1800, the daughter of Henry Whitaker, a man who was born poor but made a fortune in the business of plants.  Alma is bright and hard working, but not at all pretty.  She takes after her father and begins to study botany, at a time where women are generally only taught the finer arts of music and sewing.

Alma makes her way in a man’s world, never catching the attention of a man in a romantic way, but achieving successes with her research in botany.  But she’s lonely, she wants companionship, and perhaps most of all, she wants intimacy.

The novel follows Alma throughout her entire life, weaving an intricate story of characters, showing the joy and tragedy of a life whose outcome you don’t always get to choose.  Is it enough to find a career when most women simply find themselves to be the mother of children and in charge of a household?  Do we ever really know if others around us are happy or truly satisfied with their lot in life?  Is it possible to accept the pain of losing our loved ones?  Do we ever stop yearning for that which we do not have?

Alma’s life takes her from her father’s home all the way to Tahiti, as she seeks new plants, but also the answers to the questions she has about the human condition.  Along the way, she encounters so many others, who are flawed, imperfect and richly complex, all just trying to do what Alma is doing – find happiness.

Gilbert’s writing is excellent.  Amazing.  Despite what might seem at first a dry topic, this is a must read.  Although it is long, I was entranced until the very last page.

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr knocks it out of the park with this novel, set during World War II.  It is a NY Times bestseller, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (photo from Amazon.com)

Marie-Laure, is a blind girl living with her father in Paris; he works for the Museum of Natural History as its master locksmith.  He also has a talent for woodworking, and makes her a scale model of her neighborhood in Paris to assist her in learning how to navigate the streets without sight.  Soon enough however, the two must evacuate to Saint-Malo, a seaside walled city, to live with her eccentric great-uncle Etienne, his long-time housekeeper, and her father.

Meanwhile, Werner is an orphan growing up in Germany with a talent for building and repairing radios.  His skill is noticed by the Nazis, and he is sent to an elite school to hone his craft for the war effort.  This means he must leave his younger sister, Jutta, who has her own talent – she sees even at her very young age the evil that resides within the Nazi party.

Throughout the novel, the stories are intricately woven together, culminating with Marie-Laure and Werner meeting during the German occupation of France.  He lays bare all the cruelty and tragedy of the war, as well as the bravery that was exhibited by so many during the period.

Doerr’s character development is superb, and you can’t help but love some of them and hate others.  Despite your feelings for them, you see that they are all flawed beings, with their strengths and weaknesses.  I was entranced from beginning to end.

Book Review: Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Have you ever felt that your family history is the stuff of novels? Perhaps Aunt Gertrude was that one-of-a-kind woman who fought in the French Resistance? Maybe your Grandfather Jacob was a CIA spy during the Cold War in Cuba? Or maybe your family was just made up of hard working people who did what they had to do to survive, caught up in the laws and social norms of an era. They survived and loved in the ways that they knew how, warts and all.

Cane River, by Lalita Tademy

Cane River, by Lalita Tademy

Lalita Tademy’s family was more like that – the ordinary kind of family.  Although living for generations in bondage made the family’s achievements more extraordinary. The story begins with her Great-great-great Grandmother, a slave sold from Virginia to the Louisiana bayou, a place called Cane River, where the culture was predominantly French Creole. She fell in love, raised a family, and lived, all while owned by another. Generations of strong women, with all different personalities, doing what they could to fight for some semblance of control and authority in a culture that gave them none.

The novel is fiction, but based on the genealogical record of her family. Tademy researched for about two years, piecing together the births, deaths and marriages of a family over 150 years ago. Her work was challenging, as records were not as thorough for slaves, if they existed at all. And the gaps, the information that could not be gleaned from court and church records, and deeds of sale, were filled in with Tademy’s imagination, weaving a rich story of the women that preceded her.

Tademy doesn’t gloss over her slave ancestry; instead she confronts head on the complexity of a system that created relationships that mirrored marriage in every way but name, yet often didn’t allow a couple to live together, or even keep their own children. She also fills the tale with rape, social customs, racism, and subservience that existed in the slave-holding south. She explains how her family members inherited progressively whiter skin as white men fathered children. She explained how some family members chose to move away – where they could “pass.” How education and enrichment provided a better life; how rare those chances were in a society built upon slavery and filled with racism.

The result is a wonderfully written narrative, with characters that explode off the pages of the book; their emotions, their defiance, their intelligence and their desire to work for a better life all evident in the descriptions of their personalities and lives. I was intrigued until the very last page.

Book Review: Boy’s Life

What do you get when you write a novel from a pre-teen boy’s perspective? Lots of bike riding, baseball, as well as a few monsters and some magic thrown in for good mystery. That wrapped up with a murder mystery makes for a pretty good story.

Boy's Life, by Robert McCammon

Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon

I purchased Boy’s Life years ago from the Barnes and Noble clearance rack. The book actually contained two novels from the same author, Robert McCammon. For some reason (well, I know the reason – it is because I love to buy books and have so many that it is hard to get to them all!) I had never actually read either of the novels that came in this book. Until now. For some reason a couple of weeks ago I was looking for a book to read and this one said it was time.

The book tells the story of growing up in small town Alabama in the 1960s, from the perspective of an 11 year old boy, Cory Mackenson. He spends his days with the usual 11 year old issues, domineering teachers, schoolyard bullies, and finding time to hang out with your buddies. Throw in some monsters and magic and you make for a complete childhood. Cory has an active imagination, and uses it to create complex, whimsical stories to entertain his friends and begin an exploration of a career in writing.

However, like any small town, its residents have their share of hardships, further compounded by the local version of a crime boss, and the typical tensions between white and black citizens in the Civil Rights Era South. If that weren’t enough, early in the novel Cory and his father witness the disposal of a John Doe body in an old quarry-turned-lake.  Despite law enforcement’s efforts at identifying the man and his killer, the lake gives up no secrets. And it haunts Cory and his father relentlessly.

Although it seems like there are a lot of disconnected themes going on in the novel, the author weaves them together well, with humor and a sober reflection that seems difficult for an 11 year old. Somehow it works. It does require a suspension of disbelief at certain parts; made easier when you consider the narrator. Didn’t we all have a healthy belief in monsters and magic at that age?

If I had to voice a gripe, it would be that you wouldn’t expect your average, small town, 11 year old to have witness so much death and destruction at such an early age. Apparently this Alabama town isn’t as sleepy as the ones I have encountered.

This book won’t blow your mind, or make you ponder the meaning of life, but nevertheless, it is a riveting read that kept me guessing with its plot twists and turns. Although not the genre of novel I typically go for, it kept my interest the whole way – and that’s saying a lot considering that at about 470 pages, it is rather on the long side of novels. A worthwhile read from the bargain bin.