Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Read in 2007 Recap: Part Three

I realized today that I only blogged once in March, and it was just to whine about how I had no time to blog or write or knit. How sad.

Work stress continues, and now that The Girl is playing baseball twice a week, time is still a luxury. Although I'm refusing to bring the work stress home with me these days because dealing with it for 8 hours is enough, the exhaustion remains. The computer sits vacant and tries to tempt me, but I drag my butt upstairs with my journals, leave them untouched, stare like a zombie at whatever is on the Food Network, and wake up when my husband comes in wondering if I'm dead because he called a gazillion times and the phone was sitting right next to the remote control on the bed.

That's my life these days, but I won't let it get me down. I'm determined to get back to knitting this weekend (the first time in about a month) to finish up three projects that have been laying around incomplete for too long. I've chosen a sweater to cast on when those are done (though I change my mind all the time), and I'm going to a writing convention this weekend with Serena, so hopefully that will provide more motivation and inspiration on the writing front.

Anyway, I'm plugging along with my mini-reviews of the books I read last year, mainly because Serena asked me nicely (okay, bullied me!) to finish them. I've already finished a few books this year, so I need to finish these up in a couple more posts so I can start on the new stuff. (I still have some knitting stuff from last year to post, so I guess it's a good thing I don't have any new stuff to show you on that front!)

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

And if you're sensitive about spoilers, I'm warning you now. I try not to give too much away, but I figured I'd let you know just in case I misjudged.

21. Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman **

Hoffman opens the book with Arlyn Singer right after her father's death, determined to marry the first man who comes down the street. That was John Moody, and the poor guy only stopped to ask for directions. Arlyn is very persistent, and John seems annoyed and uninterested after their initial meeting, but they eventually marry. Obviously, their marriage isn't a happy one, but Arlyn occupies her time caring for their troubled son, Sam. The family moves into John's parents' glass house, and Arlyn soon begins an affair with one of the laborers hired to clean the home's many windows. I nearly cried reading how Arlyn discovers the breast lump in the shower and how she immediately knows she will meet the same tragic fate as her mother. When she dies in the arms of her lover, the whole family is thrown into chaos. Sam is even more screwed up than before, Arlyn's lover is left to watch their daughter Blanca grow up from afar, and John remarries and is haunted by Arlyn's ghost. This was an interesting family saga, but it started off a bit slow (I actually put down the book when Arlyn got sick and only picked it up again when I was bored on the train and had nothing else to read) and left me wanting more of a ghost story. The wife haunting husband bit is what intrigued me enough to pick up the book in the first place, and while Hoffman did a good job at capturing Arlyn's hold over the family, it still wasn't enough for me. The characters were all a bit sad, but it was hard for me to feel sorry for Arlyn's unhappiness when she was the cause, having thrown herself at John despite his initial objections. But aren't we all responsible for our own fates in one way or another?

22. Body Surfing by Anita Shreve **

newest book centers on Sydney, a woman grieving the death of her last husband, and the summer she spends tutoring 18-year-old Julie Edwards in the family's New England beach house (the same one featured in The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks, and Sea Glass). Tensions rise in the home, with Mrs. Edwards' obvious dislike of Sydney because of her Jewish heritage and Sydney grappling with the attentions of the Edwards' adult sons, Ben and Jeff. Sydney eventually choose one and avoids the other because of something she thinks happened while the three of them swam in the ocean one night. She finds out at the worst possible time that things aren't always what they seem. The characters in Body Surfing weren't as compelling as those in Shreve's other novels. There's little to like in Mrs. Edwards, I felt indifferent toward Sydney, and I thought there was nothing exceptional enough in either brother to make a choice. The sister, Julie, on the other hand, undergoes a remarkable change from a girl labeled "slow" to an artistic woman who runs away from her family for the sake of true love and the ability to control her own life. It's a transformation that would've done wonders for Sydney.

ETA: Serena also reviewed Body Surfing. Check it out!

23. When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton ***

I picked this book at the library because the story wasn't like any I'd read before, and the plot was very intriguing. Aaron Maciver makes a decision that will dramatically change the rest of his life when his new wife, Madeline, is injured in a bike accident and suffers severe brain damage. Aaron decides to care for Madeline, who now has the mind of a young child. He ultimately remarries to Julia, and they have a son, Mac, who as an adult with children of his own tells the story of his parents' love for Madeline and how he was raised as her brother. Hamilton shows the sacrifices made by the entire family to care for Madeline and how the family treats her with love and kindness. It must've been hard for Julia to have Madeline sleep in bed with her and Aaron or to witness memories of her marriage to Aaron cause Madeline to act out. The family could've sent Madeline to an institution, but they instead accept and embrace the burden and the trials of caring for a grown woman who will forever be a child. Used to watching the daily news and hearing stories of abuse and neglect, When Madeline Was Young shows that it is possible to do the right, noble thing--even when it's hard--and still be content.

24. Kingdom Come: The Final Victory by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins **

This was the final installment to the Left Behind series, and it was bittersweet. I eagerly anticipated its release because I was dying to know what happened--the flow of the series was broken up by the release of several prequels prior to this book--but I also didn't want it to be over. After reading the more than a dozen books in the series, I became attached to the characters. Jenkins created believable, everyday characters struggling with issues of faith. At this point in the series, Jesus' second coming has occurred, and one would think all was well. However, children born since the Kingdom was established on earth still must decide whether or not to accept Jesus. (You'd think it would be stupid to choose otherwise at this point, but you'd be wrong.) But the action associated with figuring out who was a non-believer and helping him or her find faith before the age at which they'll drop dead due to lack of faith, coupled with catching up with favorite characters from previous installments, was not enough to make it a worthy end to the series. The characters developed over the course of the series had to reach deep within themselves for whatever ounce of strength they possessed and dream up ways to survive in the midst of the death and destruction of the Tribulation. Having watched these characters defy death and barely escape from impossible situations in the previous books, I think the final installment was a little disappointing in that all the tension and much of the action was over. There was a lot about Rayford and Irene being moved about the world to do God's work, as well as the childcare center run by Buck, Chloe, and their son, Kenny, and all the favorite Biblical characters who come to speak to the masses. However, it almost seemed as though this book was an afterthought, and I think it could've been shortened and added to the prior book. Then again, the Left Behind series is very popular and made loads of money, so it makes sense to release a separate book (just like the last Harry Potter book will be made into two movies).

25. The 6th Target by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro **

James Patterson offers some really good, really quick fluff reading. If you're in need of a fairly good crime mystery with two- to three-page chapters, he's the author for you. However, the quality of his recent books leaves much to be desired--a topic Serena and I have discussed at great length. Patterson releases several books a year these days, most of which have co-authors. Personally, I'd rather see one of my favorite authors release a book every couple of years if it means the story will be top-notch. (Amy Tan, for instance. Has anyone seen her since Saving Fish From Drowning?) The 6th Target is the sixth installment in The Women's Murder Club series, which I've followed since the beginning. (Except for the television show, which I didn't really like at all.) I love that the female leads are all strong career women with issues like the rest of us. Sgt. Lindsay Boxer of the San Francisco PD, for instance, has major issues with commitment, and she's a workaholic. Still, it was out of character for her to travel to Washington, D.C., on a whim to find out if her boyfriend, Joe, was cheating on her. Patterson's not one of those crime mystery writers whose plots can't be cracked, but I didn't expect to learn who committed the crime and shot medical examiner and Women's Murder Club member Claire Washburn and several others on a ferry at the very beginning. The book quickly became an uninteresting cat-and-mouse chase. The same with the second plot line involving the kidnapping of a little girl and a nanny agency involved in the sex trade--it felt like an afterthought. And what's with Lindsay having feelings for her younger partner, Rich Conklin (cliche anyone?) when Joe wants to marry her? Why can't police officers have normal lives? I finished this book disappointed that Patterson didn't put the characters to better use.

26. Renovating Becky Miller by Sharon Hinck ***

Hinck's sequel to The Secret Life of Becky Miller is Christian mommy-lit, and a quick, enjoyable, don't-have-to-think-too-hard read. But I find myself thinking a lot about what Hinck was trying to accomplish with the character of Becky Miller. Becky is someone I could easily identify with--a woman of faith, a working mom who carries on despite exhaustion, a wife who tries hard to please her husband (as well as the rest of the world), a woman who thinks she can fix everyone and everything. Recovering from a leg injury from a car accident in the first book, Becky finds it difficult to get up and down the stairs of her new country home--a fixer upper that needs more work than she and her husband expected. That house symbolizes so much about Becky, myself, and women and mothers in general; something always needs to be fixed, and we think we have all the answers. In Renovating Becky Miller, Becky encounters a few situations she can't fix--her husband's abusive childhood and her best friend's depression--and it forces her to constantly remember that God is in control, God is the ultimate repairman. One interesting thing about Becky is her vivid daydreams, with each chapter opening with an action scene from a well-known movie and Becky fantasizing about being in the lead role. I definitely can identify with Becky here, drifting into a dream world where she is strong, invincible, able to conquer the world--a far cry from the ordinary woman she thinks she is. I'd like to think we all have a little bit of superhero strength within us.

27. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing **

You can read my original review here.

I've thought about this book in the months since I finished it, and while I can't say I really enjoyed it or would give it another try, I've come to a point where I can respect it and acknowledge its importance in the literary community. While it was a very difficult read for me, I am now able to see how Anna Wulf's many notebooks represented different parts of herself or who she wanted to be; none of them alone represented her true self. Serena and I had a deep discussion recently about how people act one way in reality and differently on the Internet, how we can change how we act or speak to fit a certain situation, how it can be hard to uncover the person hiding within. I now believe much of Anna's discontent and disillusionment by the end of the book was tied to her inability to know herself. She couldn't be happy in love, in her career, and in her political life without knowing herself deep down. Sometimes I wonder if that's my problem, that my feelings of discontent regarding my career and my novel writing stem from the fact that I still haven't really found myself. And then I wonder what happens if I do find that it? And I also wonder why people feel the need to catagorize everything, i.e. I am a feminist, I am a mother, I am a wife, etc. etc. etc. I just want to be me. I wonder if Doris Lessing had any of these questions in mind when she was writing The Golden Noteboook. Maybe I have it all wrong, but I'm glad I took the time to ponder this tome. I actually feel like I learned something, so maybe lugging the 600-plus-page monster on the train for two months wasn't all in vain!

28. The Road by Cormac McCarthy ****

You can read my thoughts on this book here.

ETA: Serena also reviewed The Road. Check it out!

is sort of Southern gothic horror. I thought it was going to be a ghost story, but it was so much more than that. It was so complex that I'm still trying to figure out what the heck happened at the end. The book tells the story of Sanie Bullard, who moves from North Carolina to the antebellum mansion in South Carolina belonging to her husband's family. Jackson seeks refuge in the home so that he can study for the bar exam in peace, but the moment he and Sanie enter the house, he becomes a different person. Sanie begins hearing voices, realizes it's not Jackson's crazy brother and sister, and ultimately sees apparitions. There's an episode where she raids his brother's peyote stash and has some hallucinations, but may have actually entered a vortex around the house. The Bullard family has some secrets, and these apparitions are the key. Much of what happens in this book is surreal, and I was left wondering if what happened is paranormal or involves mental illness. Despite my inability to comprehend the book (Was I supposed to get it? I have no idea!), the story was interesting. It's one that I'd have to read again, but I have too many books waiting on my shelf for me to take the time to do that.

30. Angelica by Arthur Phillips ***

You can read my thoughts on this book here.

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


Dawn said...

I'm so glad you and Serena are headed off for something that you enjoy! It sounds like a break and some fun are just what the Dr ordered! I hope it's a blast and it helps renew your energy.

Knitting will fit back in, you'll see! (From the one who can't seem to knit ANYthing right these days....LOL!!) We all gotta keep believing for more. ((((Hugs))))

Serena said...

wow that is a lot of still have more from 2007 to talk about? You read way more books than I did.

I love reading these posts. I guess there weren't any books in this batch that you wish you had written. At least I didn't notice you rating any as such....

I am psyched about the conference and reading. It will be good fun. I blogged today in both places. So you better go read that.

Serena said...

ok, i am just blind...4 stars on The that's the one you wanted to write.

Anna said...

I'm being pretty picky with my 4 stars! LOL

There were only a couple books I read last year that I didn't really like. My new policy of ditching books if I can't get into them within the first 15 or 20 pages certainly has weeded out the crap.

Buffy said...

The Golden Notebook is a book I have picked up and put down a hundred times.

Anna said...

It took me a few times, and the only reason I finished was because I was determined! I've learned my lesson not to waste time on books I don't enjoy!