Review: Life After Life

Life After Life
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
(Reagan Arthur Books, Hardcover, 9780316176484, April 2013, 544pp.)

The Short of It:

Interesting premise and at times, fluid, beautifully written passages but overall, one of the most frustrating reads I’ve read in years.

The Rest of It:

The story begins in 1930. Ursula Todd assassinates Hitler while he is sitting in a cafe in Munich and she dies in the process. Next, the story takes us back to 1910, the night of Ursula’s birth. Due to bad weather, the doctor is unable to attend her birth and the poor girl dies with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck. As Atkinson takes us back and forth through time, we see Ursula in various stages of life. Sometimes, she’s a child and ends up drowning in the ocean, other times…she’s older and as readers, we get to spend a little time with her family before tragedy strikes.

But tragedy does strike and over and over again, at that.

I really had a hard time with this one. The writing itself wasn’t bad. In fact, much of it is beautifully written but I didn’t care for Ursula all that much so seeing her die and come back so many times was a bit much for me. Oh, and it was long, which of course felt even longer with all of the back and forth going on.

The one thing that kept me reading is the idea that one small change can affect your life. That aspect of it was interesting to explore but it was ultimately lost within the structure of the novel itself.

My book club is discussing this book later this week. I’m interested in how the discussion will go because I feel as if I’ve spent so much time with it, that I don’t want to spend more time discussing it.

Have you read this one? What did you think of it?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins
By Jess Walter
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780061928178, April 2013, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Fitting title for a book that just didn’t work for me.

The Rest of It:

This story bounces back and forth between 1962 and the present. Pasquale Tursi, an innkeeper at the not so illustrious Adequate View Inn, finds himself in the middle of a scandalous cover-up. Dee Moray, an actress on the set of Cleopatra is sent away to deal with her cancer. At least, that is what SHE has been told when in reality, what she is dealing with is an unwanted pregnancy and the father happens to be none other than Richard Burton himself.

The Italian setting is lovely as is Pasquale Tursi. Even with his broken English, he is wonderful but there isn’t nearly enough of him in this novel. And Dee? A pleasant girl but clueless. Not really anyone I wanted to get to know. And the entire Richard Burton back story? Please. I will say this, I liked the parts set in Italy much more than the parts of the story set in Los Angeles. That whole Hollywood scene just isn’t my thing and I live here!

Many have given this book high marks. It’s been described as hilarious and fun. I didn’t find it hilarious or fun. At times I found myself frustrated with the back and forth and other times, I just didn’t care what happened to these people. Had it not been a book club pick, I probably would have put it down. It seemed a little cartoonish and stereotypical and as deep as I dug, I didn’t find any depth whatsoever.

I will say this though, with Walter’s work being so well-received by others, I would absolutely read another book by him. I think in this case, the subject matter just didn’t work for me.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

The Sunday Salon: Book Club Reading

Sunday Salon

Yesterday, my book club met to select our reading list for the year. We each get to pitch two books and then we go through a couple of rounds of voting to narrow it down to twelve or thirteen books. But yesterday, we didn’t have a lot of people show and some people only pitched one book so we only had to eliminate three books to get our list down to twelve.

The three that were eliminated:

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K. Rowling
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

It was a great meeting. There was food and lots of good book talk plus the day was so pretty so we ended up outside.

The final list is below, and I will also post it under the Book Club tab at the top of the page. I also list the previous lists there in case you are curious.

Final List: (Begins with March since we already had Jan & Feb chosen from last year, see full list on Book Club tab)

MAR –  Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
APR –  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
MAY –  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
JUN –  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
JUL –  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
AUG –  Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
SEP –  Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
OCT – I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
NOV –  Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
DEC- A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines
JAN –  TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
FEB – Havisham by Ronald Frame

I pitched Never Fall Down and Twelve Years a Slave but overall, I think these books will generate plenty of discussion.

As for today, not a lot going on. The sky is a very strange color. It sort of looks like it could rain but there is no chance of it happening according to the weather reports. It makes me want to just hang around the house though, which is perfectly fine by me. Next week, I have a parent meeting for The Girl’s track team, more rehearsals and I need to figure out what to bring to the Super Bowl party we are going to.

What am I reading?

Finishing up The Secret of Raven’s Point and then maybe I’ll start Orfeo by Richard Powers.

What am I cooking?

Nothing special. I might make a chicken stir fry for dinner. Sometimes you just want chicken and rice or something simple and today is one of those days.

What am I watching?

I just watched this week’s American Horror Story. What’s happened to that show? The first season was so brilliant. The second, strange but still watchable. This season is just a blood fest. With them being witches, they are killed and resurrected so many times, I can’t even keep track of who is alive anymore.

I think I need to go back to watching Leave it to Beaver.

Review: Canada

Canada
Canada 
By Richard Ford
(Ecco, Paperback, 9780061692031, January 2013, 432pp.)

The Short of It:

The anatomy of a crime, as told by one of the characters most affected by it.

The Rest of It:

First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first. (First lines of Canada)

Those opening lines set the stage for Dell’s story. His parents, struggling to make a life for themselves in Great Falls, Montana, rob a bank after getting involved in an illegal business deal. Their hope, is to pay off their debt and begin again. What Bev Parsons does not know, is that his wife Neeva sees this criminal act as a way to escape a lifetime with the man she married. Dell and his sister Berner are left to a family friend who has plans to get them out of the country. But as twins, and only fifteen, they are not sure what to make of the things happening around them.

What a book. I’ve never read Richard Ford before but when my book club picked it for January I had to give it a try. It’s not a book a reader can love. The story is too bleak for that, but I did appreciate the languid writing. Some of the members in the group compared Ford to Richard Russo and I agree. His writing reminded me a lot of Russo.

Many of the details shared are “day in the life” type details but at the same time, Ford uses foreshadowing to string the reader along. It works. I read these 400+ pages in two sittings. Telling the story from Dell’s sheltered perspective is somewhat limiting at times, but his wide-eyed wonder at the things going on around him made him vulnerable which lent the story a fragile, precarious quality.

What I most enjoyed, is the discussion that took place afterward. It’s hard to imagine what drives people to do the things they do, but it was fun to discuss it. Dell’s parents were never normal, in the traditional sense of the word. They kept their kids sheltered, were not successful in any way and tried to remain under the radar. Living in that small town, they managed to avoid most of their neighbors and didn’t seem to know how to interact with the people around them, or each other. This should have helped them in the end, but it’s really what did them in.

Ford can tell a tale and his sense of place is strong here. I enjoyed his style of writing so much, that I will be sure to seek out his other books. Have you read any of his books?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375704024, September 2000, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

Norwegian Wood is arguably THE book that put Murakami on the map, yet its transparency and predictability frustrated me.

The Rest of It:

Murakami is known for his odd, quirky characters and his affinity for talking cats, but Norwegian Wood is a departure from that. Yes, the characters are quirky but probably the least quirky I’ve encountered thus far and I’ve read eight of his books in the past year and a half.

Essentially, the book functions as a love story. At its center is Toru Watanabe. He’s an average guy and a decent student. While at college, he befriends Kizuki and Naoko who happen to be dating but the two of them are not complete without the addition of Toru’s friendship. All three of them acknowledge this at some point in their relationship, yet when Kizuki dies tragically, Naoko and Toru remain friends, but their friendship is challenged by Naoko’s inability to function without Kizuki. This forces her to spend some time away, recuperating from her sadness.

While away, Toru goes about his life as he normally would trying to figure out where he stands with Naoko and then in walks Midori. Midori has her own issues and although the two take comfort in each other’s company, they can’t seem to move past the Toru/Naoko connection. What starts off as an innocent friendship turns into something else, but how far can it go when your heart also loves another?

My reaction to the book may have been due to the translation but the writing was simplistic to me. Overly so, and that’s not something I expect while reading a Murakami novel. The dialogue was stilted and almost seemed forced in some places. At first, I enjoyed the slowness of it, but when the dialogue continued this way, I began to get frustrated with it. It really played out as a “He Said, She Said” and its predictability in both plot and pattern nearly put me to sleep at one point. But, there are telltale signs of Murakami’s familiar style too which is probably why I continued reading. His characters are always so interesting even if what they had to say wasn’t.

However, there was a “creep” factor to this novel that I’ve not experienced with any of Murakami’s other books. The “relations” between some of the characters set my teeth on edge. Many have said this is one of Murakami’s more erotic novels but I didn’t find it to be overly erotic or graphic. However, I did feel uncomfortable numerous times while reading it. The conversations about sex just didn’t seem realistic me. You wouldn’t walk up to a friend and say, “Hey, it would be nice to see your penis just to see how impressive it is. Don’t you think?” Not a line from the book but it’s a good example of what I am talking about. Polite and smutty all at the same time.

Overall, I enjoyed the musical references and listened to Norwegian Wood a few times while reading but the story was very slow and the high creep factor turned me off. Not one of my favorites, but I suspect that readers who do not appreciate the surreal quality of his other novels, might prefer the straight-forwardness of this one.

Note from Ti: Haven’t seen the movie yet but I’m curious enough to check it out.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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