Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Atonement

I had heard so much about this book that I approached it with great anticipation. At first I was disappointed. Actually, I was disappointed for much of the book. Then, I reached the end of the book, and I was blown away. The ending of this book changed the entire experience of reading it. The ending was startling and moving, and well-worth the time to get there.

The book spans more than sixty years, from the mid-thirties to 1999. It begins on a fateful summer day in 1935, when thirteen-year old Briony Tallis witnesses the interactions between her sister and the son of a family servant. Unable to understand the budding romance between Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner, Briony's response causes a devastating set of consequences. These consequences alter multiple lives.

A significant portion of the book takes place during the Second World War, and the grizzly realities of the battlefield are presented in full detail. Be ready for plenty of stomach-turning injuries. The language in the book is very atmospheric. The prose describing the summer evening is sultry and languid, nearly as stultifying as the heat itself. The language does seem showy and a bit overdone. Why McEwan makes this choice becomes evident later in the book. This is a somewhat difficult book to get into, but it is well worth pushing through to the ending.

Ian McEwan, Atonement (Anchor, 2003) ISBN:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review: Holidays on Ice

This collection of short stories and essays remind the reader of the complete and utter absurdity of the holidays. The best of the selections is undeniably Sedaris's memoir of working as an elf in the Santa display at Macy's in Manhattan. Tales from the Santa line are just as absurd as one might expect. Sedaris's maligning of children's Christmas pageants is good too. The other stories were not as funny.

This confirms what I've always suspected about Sedaris, which is that he shines in the humorous memoir genre. And really, he is quite a funny man. The non-memoir material means that this is not the strongest of his work. It's good for a holiday chuckle, and probably best for those who have to face crazy holiday relatives, but this is by no means the best of Sedaris.

David Sedaris, Holidays on Ice (Back Bay, 1998) ISBN: 0316078913

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: Burning Bright

Set in London during the French Revolution, this novel chronicles the burgeoning friendship of two near-adolescents. Jem Kellaway, son of a country chair-maker, and confirmed London urchin Maggie Butterfield strike up a close friendship, bordering on first romance. The two are united in a fascination with their unique and libertine neighbor, poet and artist William Blake. Blake shares some of his poetry and engravings with the children, which keeps them hungering for more. As the children navigate the streets of London, they discover that the revolution growing on the other side of the Channel will affect their lives in ways they never imagined. Chevalier does a fairly good job recreating the London of the 1790s. That said, the addition of William Blake as neighbor to the main characters is the only thing that makes this book anything out of the ordinary. I was never convinced that Blake contributed to the story in any meaningful way. Each time he appeared it seemed like a drive-by William Blake sighting. This was my first Chevalier book, and I think it must be one of her weaker works. I've heard wonderful things about her books, so I'll be reading some of the others, hoping for something better.

Tracy Chevalier, Burning Bright (Plume, 2008) ISBN: 0452289076

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Wrap-Up: Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010

I am pleased to have finished the Thriller and Suspense Challenge for 2010! I read and reviewed the following 12 books:

Audrey Niffenegger- Her Fearful Symmetry
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- The Hound of the Baskervilles
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Helen Grant- The Vanishing of Katharina Linden
Carol Goodman- The Drowning Tree
Carol Goodman- Arcadia Falls
Agatha Christie- At Bertram's Hotel
Agatha Christie- The Moving Finger
Agatha Christie- The Complete Miss Marple Short Stories
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret
Katharine Weber- The Music Lesson
Therese Walsh- The Last Will of Moira Leahy

And then there's the thriller/suspense/mystery books I finished but haven't posted m reviews yet:

P.D. James- Cover Her Face
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Agatha Christie- Peril at End House
Agatha Christie- Sparkling Cyanide
Agatha Christie- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Agatha Christie- Spider's Web

All in all, quite a satisfying year.

Review: At Bertram's Hotel

Bertram's, a central London hotel, attracts a wealthy and staid clientele. It specializes in creating an old-world ambiance for those who want to relive days past. But not all is right at the hotel, which Miss Marple discovers when she spends a holiday in its quarters. What exactly is amiss in the hotel is unraveled over the course of the book.

This book was somewhat different from the other Christies I've read. Most begin with a murder, and the rest of the book is spent sorting out whodunit. When I'd reached the halfway point of this book, I realized that no one had died yet; quite unusual for Christie. Instead, much of Miss Marple's time is spent trying to determine what, if anything is wrong. Several parallel story lines converge by the end of the book at Bertram's.

The unique format makes a nice diversion for the Christie fan, though I don't think that this is one of her best, it is still solid.

Agatha Christie, At Bertram's Hotel (Black Dog and Leventhal, 2007) ISBN: 1579127320

What's In A Name 3, Wrap-Up

I'm very pleased to have completed the What's in a Name? 3 Challenge in 2010. I read the following books:

Food: Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell
Music Term: The Music Lesson by Katharine Weber
Plant: Violet Clay by Gail Godwin
Title: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonsen
Water: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman
Place: Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson

2nds Challenge 2010 Wrap-Up

I am delighted to have successfully completed the 2010 2nds Challenge! I reached the level of "Fascinated" by reading six (actually I read seven!) My completed books are:

Gail Godwin, Violet Clay. Previously read Father Melancholy's Daughter
Jennifer Niven, The Aqua Net Diaries. Previously read Velva Jean Learns to Drive
Andrea Levy, The Long Song. Previously read Small Island
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Previously read The Hound of the Baskervilles
Carol Goodman, Arcadia Falls. Previously read The Lake of Dead Languages
Joshilyn Jackson, Between, Georgia. Previously read Gods in Alabama
Sue Miller, The Lake Shore Limited. Previously read While I Was Gone

Review: Between, Georgia

This is my second Joshilyn Jackson book, and I think I liked this one better than Gods in Alabama, though this does suffer from some of the same problems. The novel tells the story of Nonny Frett, trying to manage her unconventional family, and her looming, but uncertain, divorce. All of this happens against the background of the tiny and colorful southern town of Between.

The plot of this book moves along at a good pace, and the story is full of colorful characters. The similarities to Gods in Alabama are striking: the unique maternal situation, the overbearing aunt, and the troubled romantic relationship are all here.

My main issue with the book was the ending: it was a bit too neat, and definitely a let-down. I'm not sorry that I invested the time reading this book, but I was disappointed at the end.

Joshilyn Jackson, Between, Georgia (Grand Central, 2006) ISBN: 0446524425