Sunday, February 24, 2008

Read in 2007 Recap: Part Two

I guess I was wrong when I said having a home computer would boost my blogging time. Work has been kicking my butt so hard lately that by the time I get home, I really don’t feel like writing, knitting, reading, or blogging. (No book-a-week ‘round these parts these days!) I’ve been really blah, falling asleep on the couch right after The Girl goes to bed (which is my precious “alone time!”) and trudging upstairs when the hubby comes home from work wondering why I’m not in bed when I have to get up for work at 4 am. The only thing I’ve done the past week or so is catch up on those Jane Austen Masterpiece episodes. I’m all caught up and dying for the next installment of Pride & Prejudice with yummy Colin Firth! (It's taped and waiting for me. Colin and I have a date tomorrow evening!) I did do a little knitting on Friday, though, thanks to the ice storm and my boss being nice enough to let me work from home for a few hours.

I still want to finish talking about the books I read last year and finish posting the rest of last year’s finished knits, even if only to catalogue them for myself. I’d hoped to do this on the snow day, but after I finished working, I’ll admit I crashed on the couch until it was time to make dinner. Yesterday, we had a birthday party (let me tell you how exhausting it is to teach a kid to roller skate!!!), had Indian food with some friends for lunch, then headed off to visit Serena and her husband to play Totally 80’s Trivial Pursuit. Today was a morning full of church meetings (getting ready for the Easter Vigil is a really busy time), and after the hubby went to work, The Girl and I took a nap. I’m taking a few minutes to blog while she watches Pokemon…there’s a new Pokemon movie on tonight, so I’m bending the bedtime rules a little, and in return, I’m getting some uninterrupted blogging time! (I call that a good deal!)

Well, here’s some more on the books I read last year. Maybe I should just stop blabbing and get on with it!

To recap, here’s the oh-so-original rating system I developed:

**** Wish I’d written it myself
*** Made the commute fly by
** Worth considering
* I can’t recommend it, but that’s just me

11. Light on Snow by Anita Shreve ***

Yes, 2007 truly was the year of Anita Shreve for me. (Now I’m anxiously awaiting her next release, whenever that will be.) Light on Snow is told in the present, but shifts the point of view from 12-year-old Nicky Dillion to an all-grown-up Nicky. Still grieving the death of her mother and baby sister in a car accident, Nicky is moved to an isolated town in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, uprooted by her father, Robert, who could no longer hack being a city architect and becomes a recluse furniture maker. While snowshoeing, the two discover a baby left for dead in the snow, and they rush the infant to a nearby hospital. Emotions and tensions rise when the baby’s 19-year-old mother arrives at their home and is forced to stay with Nicky and her dad due to heavy snow. Having just lost his own baby, Robert questions how the mother could leave her baby for dead and must grapple with whether or not to report her to the police when the weather improves. Meanwhile, Nicky must contend with a dad whose grief is so strong he’s not really there, and without another women in the house, she sort of takes to the young mother. It wasn’t Shreve’s best work, but the emotions surrounding the need for the Dillon’s to rebuild their family after their loss and the conflicting feelings toward the baby’s mother make it an interesting read.

12. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham ***

This book sounded intriguing when I discovered it on the library shelf right around the time the movie came out: a scientist is ticked off at his cheating wife and decides to force her to go with him to China, basically in the hopes that she’ll catch cholera and die. I really enjoyed the transformation of the main character, Kitty, throughout the book. When the book opened, she was really selfish, totally in love with the man she was having an affair with, and full of hostility toward her husband, Walter. After traveling with him to China so he could do research and treat people infected with cholera, Kitty begins helping out at a local convent, ultimately returning to England a changed woman. When Walter falls ills, she’s forced to deal with her feelings for him, as well as consider her future without her husband and with only her father left as a companion.

13. Lily’s Ghost by Cheryl Drake Harris **

There are two periods of history that really interest me, the Vietnam War because my father was a military police officer in the Air Force, and the Holocaust because my mother and her family are from Germany and moved to the U.S. in the years after World War II, having undergone persecution themselves because their family wasn’t on the side of Hitler. I picked up Lily’s Ghost because it focuses on a woman’s efforts to resume a normal life after serving as a doctor in Vietnam. From stories my mother told me, I know my dad suffered from bad memories of the war, and she woke up one night to my father in the midst of a nightmare with his hands around her neck. So I know firsthand how difficult it can be for soldiers to reintegrate with society. The book takes place in 1978, with the main character, Lily, struggling with flashbacks that ultimately force her husband to leave her and fearing for their son’s safety, attempt to secure full custody. The story goes back in time to the Tet Offensive and shows Lily’s experiences in Vietnam with her lover/Reuters reporter, Ian, and their friend, Bao-Long. In the present, Lily meets and becomes friends with another man, who helps her in her attempts to get her son back and reclaim her life.

14. The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits **

There is a lot going on in this book. The story centers on Mary, a girl who was reportedly abducted for one month in 1985, returning to her family with no memory of the time she was gone. The book hints to the events that might have occurred during that time (mainly the interesting relationship between Mary and the man we are led to believe was behind her disappearance), as well as the therapy sessions Mary was forced to endure in her mother’s attempts to determine whether she was actually abducted or not and whether she really remembers what happened during the month she was missing. The book also moves to the present and focuses on Mary’s relationship with her two sisters at the time of their mother’s death in 1999. To me, the book is about different perceptions of reality (what Mary leads people to believe happened and what really did happen), the psychology of repressed memories, and how what was left unsaid about the month Mary was gone and the importance placed on that time by her mother affected the rest of the family. The book was interesting, but parts of it dragged, and I thought the passages about the therapy sessions were all over the place and somewhat confusing. I bet if I read it again, I’d pick up on things I missed the first time, but it’s not a book I’d rush to read over.

15. All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve ***

Shreve tells this story from the point of view of Nicholas Van Tassle, a man who sets his sights on Etna Bliss and is determined to make her his wife. When Etna finally agrees to marry Nicholas, he’s determined to keep her forever. However, Etna keeps her distance emotionally from Nicholas, and things really get complicated when Etna begins a relationship with Philip Asher. Nicholas is in competition with Philip, both of whom are professors at Thrupp College. It’s what Nicholas does in an effort to keep Etna to himself that makes him one of the most despicable characters Shreve ever created.

16. Shopaholic & Baby by Sophie Kinsella ***

I don’t read too many chick-lit books, but I’ve enjoyed the Shopaholic series from the very beginning. I couldn’t wait to see how much shopping Becky Bloomwood would accomplish before the birth of her baby with hubby Luke Brandon. (If you read Shopaholic & Sister, which chronicles the early days of Becky & Luke’s marriage, and saw how much stuff she bought on the honeymoon…oh, boy!) There’s so much going on in this installment, aside from Becky’s pregnancy. Luke’s business is having problems, and Becky’s searching for her dream home, trying to find a nice way to let her environmentalist half-sister know she has no intentions of making her own cloth diapers out of old rags, and fighting to keep her husband out of the clutches of his old-girlfriend-turned-OB/GYN. It’s definitely not deep, intellectual reading, but it’s amusing.

17. The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff ****

When the Nazis enter Poland, Emma Bau trades in her Jewish identity and poses as a gentile living with her husband’s aunt; her husband has already fled, as he is part of the underground resistance. She acts as the older sister of a young boy who is the son of an important rabbi and witnessed the murder of his mother in the Jewish ghetto where Emma’s parents remain. At a dinner party, Nazi Kommandant Georg Richwalder is immediately attracted to Emma and gives her a job as his personal assistant—a job her husband’s aunt insists she take to help the underground resistance. The book focuses on the things Emma has to do to protect her new identity and those she loves from being found out by the Nazis, her conflicted feelings for the Kommandant, and her worries over having to betray her husband for the sake of the resistance. Jenoff did a beautiful job building tension throughout the book, and the end was unexpected and powerful.

18. The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood ***

Mary Baxter is trying to rebuild her life after the death of her five-year-old daughter. As the parent of a young daughter myself, that in itself was enough to bring tears to my eyes throughout the book. When Mary joins a knitting group and realizes she isn’t the only one suffering, she learns the importance of moving through the stages of grief with friends. Each person she meets in the knitting circle has their own story, their own struggles, their own sadness, and we see how knitting has helped them cope. The book also shows Mary’s efforts to rebuild her marriage and her relationship with her mother. It is an emotional novel, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t want to get teary-eyed in front of fellow commuters. (Yup, I had to stop reading in several parts because I didn’t want to be known as the weird chick who sobs on the train.)

19. Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard ***

I wrote my thoughts on this book a few months ago, and you can read them here.

20. The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom *

This is the only book I read last year that I’m giving one star, and I pulled it off the library shelf and plodded through it because it was very, very short and I figured it would be easy to read. Also, the book covers several generations of Southern women, and I’m a sucker for a family saga. The book is written in a very unique style, a mixture of photographs and prose and sections that flow like poetry, and it showcases the years of abuse—physical, verbal, and sexual—these women experience. The dysfunctional families portrayed in this book will make you feel tons better about your own. While I admire Saterstrom for trying to do something different, I found the book confusing in parts. It was hard to keep the characters straight and understand the dialect.

Just a few more books left to write about. Hopefully, I’ll finish that soon. Let me know if any of you have read any of these books. I’m curious to see what you thought.

Disclosure:  All of the books reviewed in this post were either borrowed from the library, borrowed from a friend, or purchased by me.


Serena said...

I really enjoyed this post! It's interesting to see the different books you read last year. I really should keep a tally like that but alas I am too lazy for such pursuits. LOL

I think that Kommandant book sounds like a great read. I may have to pick that one up myself.

Dawn said...

We were begged to extend bedtime last night as well due to the Pokemon movie! How funny these kids are! ;O)
I enjoy your reviews, I'm kind of like Serena though, I WANT to keep track (you're quite the inspiration) but I always forget to. I should though because I often check something out that I've already read. I need to just put my list on excel or something.

I can relate to the sleeping part. That's all I've wanted to do myself. That Lyrica is making me a zombie. I have to stop taking it for a bit. Hang in there and get rest when you can. :)

Anna said...

I enjoy keeping track of the books I've read, simply because it helps me to remember them. There was talk of some book on Ravelry and I remembered reading it but couldn't for the life of me remember what it was about!!