Sunday, November 25, 2007

The World According to Garp - John Irving: A Review

Title: The World According to Garp
Author: John Irving
Date Finished: November 25, 2007
Pages: 437
Rating: 4.25/5

Not really quite sure how to summarize this one. Or explain my feelings. I read this one for the Decades and Book Awards Challenges and put it off, put it off, put it off. I did like this book--a lot, but I didn't really know what to expect because I had heard so much praise for it. The best way that I can describe it is that it is like Tom Robbins but less blatantly metaphorical and less shocking. Although there is a lot of shock value in this book.

And sex. In fact it had a lot of the same sexual themes as Flesh and Blood (minus AIDS) although Irving is in many ways a little more subtle in his terminology and descriptions than Cunningham. The book begins with Jenny, a nurse taking care of patients during the war--particularly a Technical Sergeant Garp whom she has sex with in order to conceive a child (because she doesn't want to get married or have a baby the "conventional" way). The book is about her son, Garp, from the time he is a baby until...well...his whole life. :) The book discusses the intricacies of his marriage and affairs, his relationship with his children, the heartaches and joys of his life.

I really liked this book--but it was tedious at times. Garp is a writer in the novel, which is a major part of the plot. Little snippets of his works are included within the book but I found myself getting bogged down in these stories. They didn't take up a great length of the book, but I found them distracting and poorly written (which I guess maybe they were supposed to be?). Another thing that I found distracting was the narrator; the narrator is omniscient and mostly just a narrator, but sometimes he made his presence a little too noticeable. I'm not sure how to explain this except that the narration sometimes felt contrived. Not like the narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being who I thought was entertaining and endearing. Overall a good book and won't be my last Irving--but maybe I'll read a little Robbins first.

Sea Glass - Anita Shreve: A Review

Title: Sea Glass
Author: Anita Shreve
Date Finished: November 23, 2007
Pages: 376
Rating: 4.25/5

This is my fourth Shreve book and my favorite so far (coming in second is The Weight of Water). I picked this up at a booksale and read it for Something About Me. While I like Shreve's writing, for some reason I wouldn't buy her books at a regular book store. I always seem to pass her up for Piccoult.

Anyway, this book is about a number of characters who are drastically different from one another but manage to come together for a common cause. The book takes place during 1929-1930--the first difference from the other books I've read which are more contemporary--and follows each of the main characters instead of a select two or so--which is also different. Among the characters there is Honora, the naive young wife of Sexton who is not always entirely honest. McDermott, a lower class factory worker who takes in the young Alphonse under his wing. And Vivian, an upperclass socialite who gets mixed in with the others at first just for something to do.

The social setting is obviously the depression, but also the factory mills of the Northeast where many of the characters work. The conditions are abysmal and the workers want change and a better life when that doesn't seem to be a possibility for anyone. Other than required non-fiction reading in college, I haven't really read anything about this specific time period and while the book was more about the lives of the characters rather than the politics (although they were present), the topics made the book an interesting read. I read this while at the in-laws for Thanksgiving and sped right through it. I would recommend it as a quick, light read--especially if you enjoy Shreve's books.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Flesh and Blood - Michael Cunningham: A Review

Title: Flesh and Blood
Author: Michael Cunningham
Date Finished: November 14, 2007
Pages: 466
Rating: 4/5

I picked this book up a few years ago at a booksale after reading The Hours. While I didn't like this book as much as I did The Hours, I thought it was a good book. The book follows the Stassos family through three generations beginning with Constantine the Greek immigrant patriarch and ending with his grandchildren almost 100 years later. Hmmm, sounds like Middlesex? Perhaps--most of the story revolved around the sex lives of the characters--first the parents Constantine and Mary then their children Susan, Billy, and Zoe and finally the grandchildren. The difference? Cunningham does not tackle delicate subjects with quite as much grace as Eugenides does. Sometimes the topics were brash, but they were also written brashly.

Nevertheless, Cunningham writes characters beautifully. This is one of the things that I really admired about The Hours, and to a lesser degree this book. Perhaps because of the time-span of the book or simply what the characters go through during the book, I felt myself being drawn into their stories and becoming invested in what happened to them even though I didn't necessarily feel sympathetic to any of them until the last third of the novel. Would I recommend it? Umm...not the best book I've read this year, but I also felt really compelled to finish it all the way through. I even shed a few tears at the end of the book. Take it on at your own risk. Definitely start with The Hours, though.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen: A Review

Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Date Finished: November 2007
Pages: 211
Rating: 4/5

I read this for Joy's 2nds Challenge because I read Pride and Prejudice years ago...ironically I will be re-reading P&P later this month/next month for Something About Me Challenge. It wasn't until a co-worker asked for a "fluff" recommendation that I realized that most of the books I've been reading lately have been classics, but I've been enjoying them in a very strange, almost sadistic way. :)

Northanger Abbey is about Catherine who is not your typical heroine. She leaves her home to stay in Bath with some friends, the Allens, and she becomes entangled with Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor. After befriending Catherine, the Tilneys invite her to stay with them at Northanger Abbey, an old Gothic castle. Can Catherine find love at Northanger Abbey; did her love interest's father commit a horrible crime at Northanger Abbey; does Catherine come into the type of life that she deserves? These are some of the questions that are answered in the second half of the book.

While I enjoyed the book, it wasn't as developed as I would have liked. It has been so long since I've read Pride and Prejudice that I don't have much to compare with, but the depth didn't seem to be there--not only with the characters, but with the plot as well. There were parts, especially near the end, where the connections were never really clear (why was Catherine asked to leave Northanger Abbey?). I thought it was a fun book, and I loved how Catherine has a tendency to overanalyze situations because I do the same thing. I'll be really interested in reading more of Austen's books--especially P&P in a few weeks.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Catching Up

AHHHHHH. With the new job, I've been able to keep my reading at a steady pace, but it seems like I can never find the time to blog about what I'm reading or read others' blogs about what they are reading. Thanks for sticking with me...if you still are. :) Hopefully I will have some GREAT catch up time this weekend. In the meantime, below are the reviews for Age of Innocence and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Sometimes this weekend (maybe sooner?) I'll have another for Northanger Abbey. There just aren't enough hours in the days. How do YOU all find time to read?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tales of Edgar Allan Poe - A Review

Title: Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Pages: 252
Date Finished: November 3, 2007
Rating: 3.5/5

I began this book in September with the hopes that I could read a few short stories every Sunday to have it completed by the end of October for the RIP challenge. Didn't happen. Here is my review of the first three stories (out of twelve) in the book ("The Cask of Amontillado," "The Black Cat," and "The Tell-Tale Heart"). Below are tid-bits of the stories--as before, there are spoilers.

"The Masque of the Red Death" - the story of a Prince who secludes himself in his castle to escape from the Red Death that is causing so many deaths within his nation. One night, though, Prince Prospero decides to hold ball in which the personified Red Death visits. This story, while required reading for many classes I've had, never really struck me as anything great. This time around did not change that opinion.
"The Pit and the Pendulum" - I can't remember if I've read this story before or not, but I really enjoyed it this time around! The narrator is held prisoner in a dark pit, and while trying to determine the size of the dungeon he passes out. When he wakes, he is bound and a large pendulum-blade swinging above him which is rapidly moving towards him. I found this story so riveting because I could feel the fear of the character as he was trying to determine his situation and then trying to free himself from the impending doom of the pendulum. For me, Poe at his best.

"The Premature Burial" - This is one of the many stories where Poe explores a character's fear of being buried alive--mainly because he suffers from catalepsy--a disorder that causes a the person to appear dead but is really in a trance. I think in the book there are four such stories...so this one wasn't really all that thrilling.

"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" - Very creepy! The narrator is obsessed with the idea of mesmerizing people (hypnosis), and he decides that he is going to try his experiments on his friend who is dying of tuberculosis. His friend remains mesmerized for about seven months in which his condition stays the same. Finally the narrator brings his friend out of the trance and his body immediately rotted away into "a nearly liquid mass of loathsome--of detestable--putrescence" (110).

"Berenice" - Eagaeus is about to marry his cousin Berenice, but she begins to deteriorate from some disease (seriously??); Eagaeus begins to obsess and focus on Berenice's teeth, which are not deteriorating with the rest of her body. After Berenice dies, a servant informs Eagaeus that her grave has been disturbed but when they went to go investigate they found her enshrouded and still breathing. After the servant leaves, Eagaeus realizes that his clothes are muddy and covered with blood and there is a shovel by the wall. There is also a box on the table which contains dental instruments and 32 teeth. Some of this story did not make sense to me (was she still alive...did he kill her...why didn't the others intervene when they saw she was breathing), but its creepy nonetheless.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" - The narrator is staying with his friend and his twin sister (who suffers from catalepsy) who is ill and dies and is entombed before being buried. In order to console Usher, the narrator begins telling him a story. During certain parts of the story, the two begin hearing noises that reflect the events of the book. Essentially in a Poe story, if someone suffers from catalepsy and dies, he probably isn't dead. She finally appears to the two, she dies, Usher dies of fright, and the narrator flees the house. As he leaves, the house falls to ruin.

"The Gold-Bug" - This is the longest tale of the bunch and by the time I got finished reading it I had a "huh" moment. The story is about a man who is bit by a gold bug and begins frantically searching for a mysterious treasure. Once he finds the treasure, he explains to the narrator how he deciphered the clue that led him to the treasure. All of this in 50 pages. :) Huh.

"A Descent Into the Maelstrom" - I'm not sure if this and The Gold-Bug were written at different periods than the rest of the stories, but they didn't seem to fit with the other tales. I skimmed most of the story, which is about some people who are caught in basically a large whirlpool in the ocean and one of them escapes to tell the story. Not what I expect from Poe.

"William Wilson" - This is the story of William Wilson who attends a school where there is another boy with the same name and birthdate. The two become more and more similar until finally Wilson sneaks upon his "other" and realizes they have the same face. He leaves for another school and begins acting rebelliously. His double always appears at these moments, but under a disguise. Finally, Wilson pulls his double aside at a ball and stabs him; he has really stabbed himself and dies.

Overall the stories were OK. There are a few that I really liked, but some that I really didn't like. I'm glad I finished the book, though, even if I didn't finish in time for the challenge. Really want something creepy--Google images for Poe's stories!!

The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton: A Review

Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Date Finished: October 29, 2007
Pages: 286
Rating: 3.5/5

I chose to read this book because a) its been sitting on my shelf for years and b) for the Decades and Book Awards challenges. There were some parts of the plot that I really liked, but mostly it was enjoyable reading about the social obligations of New York's uppercrust in the late 1800s. But overall, I was a little disappointed in the actual story. Blah!

The story follows Newland Archer who is engaged to May, a beautiful and naive young woman; both Newland and May are members of New York's upper class where strict social protocol dictates much of their lives. Everything is going well for Newland and May and their engagement, but the arrival of Ellen, May's intriguing cousin who is recently separated from her European husband, shakes up Newland's emotions. Ellen is everything that May is not--particularly "free"--and Newland finds himself falling for her. The remainder of the story deals with whether Newland will settle for a safe and predictable life with May or leave her to be with Ellen.

There were a few parts of the book that I found really confusing--it seemed as though Wharton was more subtle in discussing some of the scandals that occurred in the book and because the social conventions of the 1870s are lost on me I didn't always quite follow what was going on. This was a pitfall of the book for me. What I missed I was able to supplement with secondary reading, but too much was lost in "translation". I would recommend the book for a study of social conventions, but that is really the only part of this book that truly appealed to me.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Camping Wrap Up - Day 3

PACKING UP, BOATING, GOING HOME

The camping trip is over, but it went by so quickly. It is agreed that we all desperately need a shower, but we all had such a great time! We cooked one last breakfast on the fire and packed up the tents. I was sad that the camping portion of our trip was over, but we still had a few hours to kill...so we headed to the marina and rented a pontoon boat to cruise around Lake Texoma.

Again, we were blessed with a gorgeous day, and even though it was a little chilly on the boat, we enjoyed the November sunshine. We were only on the boat for about an hour, but we were able to see a lot of the Texas and Oklahoma shoreline. I've camped on the Oklahoma side of Texoma before, but both sides proved to be very beautiful. I had my qualms about heading an hour away from home, but I would come back to Eisenhower Park in a heartbeat. The campsites were clean and spacious (we actually had two sites next to each other since we had 3 tents).











The boat ride was a blast; Chaz drove most of the time while the rest of us hung out. We had a few issues with going too close to the shore and dragging up the lake bottom and Chaz spraying everyone with water, but mostly the trip was scenic and relaxing. After leaving Texoma, we went to quickly see the dam, which was pretty impressive although I don't have pictures. On the way home we stopped at Carls Jr for one last meal (yes, we love our food!) and called it a trip. We all had such a great time and can't wait for our next camping trip! Texas is so varied that there are a number of options. Hopefully the winter will be short so we can take our next weekend camping trip soon!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Eisenhower State Park Day 2

CAMPING DAY 2: Eating, Hiking, Napping, Eating!!!


Scott, Chaz, and I were the first ones up in the morning, so we started cooking breakfast. Truthfully it took a little while for Chaz and Scott to get the fire started (weren't you guys in boy scouts??), but soon we were on our way! We cooked eggs, pancakes, bacon, and sausage. It was a little tough to get everything organized and cooking the way we wanted it, but it turned out to be a delicious breakfast!

After waking up the troops (JOE MARKS UP, EVERYONE UP!) and finishing breakfast, we headed off on a hike. We couldn't have asked for better weather. The Texas climate is pretty sketchy, so who would have thought that we would an 80 degree day? Eisenhower park is on the edge of Lake Texoma which straddles between Texas and Oklahoma. The shores are relatively rocky, but with the leaves all different colors the hike was beautiful.

We walked through a little bit of forest, through some grassy fields, and down the rocks to the beach. Being the daredevils that they are, Chaz, Scott, and Nick climbed down the rocks to look over into the lake. We hiked for about 2 hours until we were pooped and ready for an afternoon nap. But before that, you know we did our fair share of singing obnoxiously while walking back to the campsite. Some things don't change. :)












While Mom, Brooke, and I relaxed a little, Chaz, Scott, and Nick went on a hunt for some firewood and a deck of cards. The rest of the afternoon was pretty relaxing--as the girls read and napped and the boys played with the fire. So typical!

After being well-rested, it was time to eat (again!). I pre-cooked chili for taco salad for an easy dinner, so the pot went onto the fire and the cooking began! The taco salad was delicious (if I say so myself), and for dessert we had S'Mores. We talked and told stories and joked around by the campfire, but the evening wouldn't have been complete without a little experimentation.

I think I can say with some certainty that one of the highlights of the evening was cooking Nick's Halloween popcorn on the fire. It took a little while to figure out the best way to cook it, but once we figured it out we ate some of the best popcorn ever!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Camping? You mean, in a tent?

EISENHOWER STATE PARK, TEXAS (DAY 1)

We've talked about taking a family camping trip for years, but since we Kuettel girls have never truly experienced camping--yes, camping in a tent, all we've done is talk. Finally, we picked a date, Chaz recommended Eisenhower State Park on Lake Texoma (Texas side), and off we were!

Scott and I both worked on Friday, so we met everyone around 8:00. Eisenhower SP is about a hour north of McKinney, so the drive wasn't bad at all. Why didn't we do this sooner? When we got to the park it was already dark, so I naturally hung out with the others while Scott put up the tent (and Nick helped). What good boys.

The rest of the night we hung around the campfire. Scott and I had already eaten dinner, but everyone else cooked hotdogs and hamburgers (and ghost peeps left over from Halloween). The weather was a little chilly, but the sky was clear and the fire kept us all warm. We made the obligatory trip to the restroom (right behind our campsite)--ducking under the spiderwebs--and then went to bed. Early to bed, early to rise! Already the camping trip is a big success!

Sleeping in a tent was quite the experience, but the sleeping bag was warm and the air mattress (um...what did you expect??) was pretty comfortable. I kept hearing drops on the tent during the night, so I was afraid that it was raining and everything would be wet in the morning, but it was just the leaves dropping on the tent. We picked the perfect weekend to go camping with all of the leaves changing colors and the weather not too hot or too cold.
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