Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Complete Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

Title: The Complete Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Date Finished: August 22, 2008 #49
Pages: 341
Rating: 4.5/5

Dear Book Blogosphere Friends,

Thank you for reading such wonderful books and posting about them so that I can say that I want to read them in my comments to you until I leave enough comments saying that I want to read the book that I actually have to breakdown and get the book to read it so that I don't have to keep saying I want to read that book and instead I can say I read and loved that book, too!

Love,

Trish

I promise--no more intentional run-on sentences for the rest of this post. :) I admit it, I was really reluctant to read a graphic novel. I was incredibly prejudiced and shame on me! I really have no good excuse so I'm not even going to bother trying to make them up. After seeing them everyone on the blogosphere, I decided I need to stop being such a whiner and at least try one. So, I went to the bookstore, used my lovely gift certificate that I've been hording for months (I don't know why I will use cash when I have a gift card, but I do) and got The Complete Persepolis--taking the chance that if I liked the first book so much I'd probably want the second book as well.

What a surprise (and why should I be so surprised when my trusted book friends have all raved about this book! Silly me!). I read this during my trip to Toronto, mostly in the car to and from Niagara and downtown, and my sister was so intrigued that even she was reading over my shoulder most of the time and has asked to borrow it.

Persepolis is about a young girl, Marji, and her world turned upside down during the Islam Revolution in Iran during the late 70s and early 80s. When Marji is 14, she is sent to Austria to live, and the second half of the book focuses more on her time there and her struggles to come to terms with her true self. In many ways it is a classic bildungsroman, but what makes Marji's story so special is that we can also see how the revolution affected a little girl who doesn't really understand what is happening around her but wants to with such intensity. The first page (hopefully you can enlarge it to read the text):

The illustrations contain so much emotion that it was easy to laugh and cry along with Marji during the different events and trials of her life. And because there is so little room for words, everything written contains such a strong punch--nothing is wasted. While it seems as though it might be "easy" reading, I read this book very slowly, pouring over the pages and examining each illustration and re-reading and absorbing the words. It was such a different experience reading this book, but I highly recommed it. In terms of the actual book--the first half of the book was fantastic for me. There were a few sections of her teenaged years (I presume in the second volume?) that I didn't care for as much, but in the end the book came back around full-circle and ended strongly. Not only did I come to care so much for Marji, but I also learned so much about the Iranian culture and the revolution. This book has it all!

What do you think about graphic novels? What would you recommend next? Have you seen the movie?

They've also read it: I=first volume; II=second volume; I and II=both reviewed separately; Complete=both reviewed together (like my review)
Valentina (Complete)
Joy (I)
Bethany (I and II)
Corinne (I)
Raidergirl3 (I and II)
Nymeth (Complete)
Dewey (II--but contains link to I)
Rhinoa (Complete)
Marg (II--but contains link to I)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Super Commenter Award :)


I've been lucky to have been awarded a few little gems over the past couple of weeks but this one really means a lot to me for a number of different reasons. So first, thanks to Dar, Jeane, and Nymeth for passing on the award to me--it really means a lot!

Part of the reason why this award means so much is because I do try to leave comments as much as I can. I get behind in life (um, like I am now), but I spend a lot of time reading through blogs and trying to leave thoughtful comments. I know how much I love and appreciate getting comments and know others must feel the same way and without a comment who knows you were there anyway? So thank you ladies, for noticing. I wish my comments could be a little more brillant, but sometimes a 'Hey, I was here' is all I can manage. Wow, maybe I can win the "cheese" award as well!

That brings me to another thing--I have almost 100 subscribers to my blog. I don't know how that compares to others, I'm not bragging--but really, who the heck are you people?? :) I would LOVE to come visit you--so leave me a comment letting me know you were here when you were. I've purposely left the number of blogs that I subscribe to at a manageable level so that I CAN visit everyone and leave comments as much as possible--but I still love to discover new blogs!

So, without further babble, I'm going to pass on the Super Commenter Award:
Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot
Dar at Peeking Between the Pages
Debi at Nothing of Importance
Laura at Reading Reflections
Literary Feline at Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Joy at Thoughts of Joy
CB at Ready When You Are CB

Some of these are new to me, some are old to me (and some of the very first blogs I discovered--Nymeth and Joy). Thank you gals and guy for being such great commenters. It means so much to know to know that you're there and even when I post rubbish I get your support. :) The rules say to pass it on to seven individuals.

SO, after getting back from Toronto I'm, of course, behind. I still have my thoughts on The Complete Persepolis to report and will finish up Neverwhere tomorrow--but I'm going out of town AGAIN this weekend (just a short trip, but no computer). I'm going to try and go through my Google Reader to try and catch any goodies from when I was gone, but with over 200 posts I can't read them all (AND I feel guilty when I can't comment as much as I want!!). Can everyone please hold their posts until next Tuesday so I can get caught up please?? That would be just perfect. :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Farworld Giveaway Winner!!!

And the winner is:

Crystal!!

Crystal, please leave me a comment here on how to contact you so that you can get your new book!!

Thanks everyone for entering!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Toronto - August 2008

It has been four years since we made our last family trek up to Toronto, so I was thrilled when Dad and Beth mentioned last Christmas that they wanted to take us up there. I was thrilled because I love visiting my grandparents--especially in Toronto where I grew up, but also because Scott has never traveled up that way and I really wanted him to see the city.

NIAGARA!!!

A trip to Toronto would be incomplete without a side excursion to Niagara. Niagara is about a two hour drive from the city, but the scenery is gorgeous and well worth the drive. We stopped for lunch and a little window shopping at the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The flowers never cease to amaze me--our climate is way too hot in Dallas to have such lovely blooms, and this was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Scott and Trish: Niagara-on-the-Lake

Scott, Trish, Dad, Katie, Kim, Grandpa, Beth: Niagara-on-the-Lake

Canadian Niagara Falls

Scott, Trish, Katie, Kim, Dad, Beth: US Niagara Falls

We didn't spend a whole lot of time at the falls--it was hotter than hades and we were tired from the shopping. So Grandpa watched the car and we ran out to take our pictures and ran back to the car. Once you've seen the falls, there really isn't much else to experience. But if you haven't gone--definitely go!!


TORONTO!!!

Our next excursion was, of course, downtown Toronto. We parked just outside of the city so that we could take the subway in. If you can believe it, it was Scott's first subway trip! Once we got to the city, we headed down to the harbor for a cruise around the islands and a little pizza lunch (wish I could remember the name of the cafe--it has really nice outdoor dining and delicious food--we ate there last time we went as well).


Toronto Skyline (taken from Island Cruise)

CN Tower / Trish and Scott: Harbourfront Centre

Katie, Kim, Trish, Scott, Dad in front of Lake Ontario









Left: Dad, Katie, Kim, Beth on Island Cruise Right: Scott on Subway

Trish, Kim, Katie, Scott, Dad: Island Cruise

After the cruise and lunch, we walked around the city and headed toward St. Lawrence Market (below right) where an outdoor festival was going on. We also stopped in by the Hockey Hall of Fame (no we didn't go in, but we did take enough time for a great picture! Click on the picture to enlarge--Scott, Trish, Kim, and Katie from L-R). Our final retreat was to the Eaton Centre, a ginormous mall with 10 million shops. I headed straight for the bookstore (shocker!), while the rest shopped. It was a great day in the city, but I think everyone was worn out by the end of the day!









MARKHAM/UNIONVILLE!!!

Since Katie was leaving us early for school, we front-loaded the vacation. On our third day, we drove out to Markham, the town where we lived and saw the houses, the school, and of course the field where I had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school every day. Picture A Christmas Story with the little kid who can't put his arms down when wearing his snow suit. :)

After driving around Markham, we headed out to Main Street Unionville where there is a cute little downtown with shops and restaurants. Again, the flowers are so gorgeous!! We did a little shopping and then ate some fish and chips (again, can't find the name of the restaurant).

Trish, Scott, Dad, Kim, Beth, Katie

Main Street Unionville


GRANDMA AND GRANDPA'S!!!

We always have such a blast at Grandma's and Grandpa's. They live on a secluded farm in New Market, about 30 miles from downtown Toronto. Grandpa used to be a landscaper (my uncles have since taken over the business--Walter's Landscaping--head over to the website to see a really cute picture of my Grandpa when he was younger), but the grounds are still so beautiful with Grandpa's perennials. In addition to the beautiful setting, Grandma always cooks the best meals--usually fresh from their garden. We were able to spend a lot of time with Grandma and Grandpa this trip, and we had fun playing cards and sharing so many stories.










Scott on paddle boat going around in circles / Trish and Scott in the Gator

Trish, Scott, Kim, Katie playing around on the Gator









Scott and Trish / Kim in front of flowerbed

Kim on big girl bike / Trish on little girl bike

(Our cousins brought over some of their bikes for us to ride around the property. Kim was much braver than I was--I got on the little bike and didn't know how to stop it! Finally I ran it into the side of the house--very scary!!)

Scott on little boy bike (same one Trish is on above)

Trish and Scott

Kim, Trish, Scott, Beth, Grandma, Grandpa, Dad

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Road - Cormac McCarthy (and other stuff)

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Date Finished: August 20, 2008 #48
Pages: 287
Rating: 4.25/5

Every once in a while a book comes around that will stick with you--I've been lucky to find a few of those recently and this one is no exception. This is my fourth McCarthy book and while I've liked/loved the others maybe just as well, this is the one that I will continue to remember and think about.

I'm not sure what I can add to what others have said about the plot--and really it is quite simple so I'll keep it short. The Road is about a father and son who are travelling south through the post-apocalyptic ruins of what used to be America. Knowing they will die in the brutal winter of where they are, they must seek out a warmer climate near the ocean. During their journey they encounter every horror of what has become of the remnants of humanity and nature. The two travel with the clothes on their back, what they can fit into a shopping cart, and a pistol with two bullets--meant for suicide.

With every other McCarthy book I've read, hopelessness is seemingly ubiquitous. While I think that there is plenty of hope in this book for those who search hard enough, terror and fear abound. There is a movie being released maybe this winter and I don't think I can possibly see it after reading the book. McCarthy takes a hard look at how mankind would react if almost everything was wiped from the face of the earth. If every day was a battle to survive. The dead are everywhere--and if you aren't dead you have to watch your back to make sure it stays that way. It is the stuff of nightmares--and I have enough of an imagination to visualize the happenings of this book without having to witness it on the big screen. Sheesh!!

What I love about McCarthy is his style. If Hemingway is terse, I think that would make McCarthy uberterse. What amazes me about McCarthy is that he says so little but draws me in just the same. Of the four I've read, this is by far the starkest both in terms of writing and content, but the style fits the book. While he does go into detail about certain events that happen, there is also so much not said. For instance, we have no idea what caused the apocalypse or how long it has been going on for. We know there are good guys and bad guys but not what their ultimate purpose is. Once upon a time things were normal, but we don't know how long ago that was. For me, what was left out was just as impactful as what was said--and it certainly adds to the horror.

And then there is the relationship of the son and the father. Their conversations are all so simple and so incredibly heartbreaking. The father loves his son so much but how can he pretend that he is not just as scared as the son is. And the son, who wants to believe every word that his father says but ultimately knows that his father is sometimes lying to him in order to protect him. These are the parts that will continue to stick with me. As they would both say, "Okay."

I have several friends who have started this book, struggled through the first 50 pages or so, and never finished. I think that one has to get into the rhythm of McCarthy's style--and once there the book is difficult to put down. This book is haunting--it tugged at my heartstrings and punched me in the gut--but it is also a beautiful portrait of pure love.

So, what do you think of the book? How do you think it will translate into film? See what they think about the book:
CJ; Nicola; Wendy; Joy; Dewey; Raidergirl3; Gautami; Tricia ; Laura; Serena

***************************************************************************
OTHER STUFF
I'm leaving on a jet plane tomorrow for Toronto!! Its been four years since I've been up to visit and Scott has never been so we are really excited (its actually a family trip). The weather is supposed to be gorgeous and I can't wait! My Google Reader has been pretty quiet all week--are people on vacation? Anyway, just wanted to let you know why I won't be around for a few days and I'll make my rounds when I get back next week.

GIVEAWAYS
Don't forget about my Farworld: Water Keep giveaway!! Click HERE to enter. I'll draw a winner on Wednesday August 27th when I get to my computer.

Also Jeane is celebrating her blogiversary with a giveaway HERE.

And Dar is giving away a copy of One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell HERE.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Date Finished: August 17, 2008 # 47
Pages: 343
Rating: 4.25/5

It was difficult for me to read this book without my impressions on the movie Capote coloring my reaction. I was so fascinated by the movie and Capote's obsession with the crime and the killers that I had hoped some of that would leak into his writing, but I saw only one or two places where it could be argued Capote might have written himself into the book. Neither here nor there as this book was just as intriguing as the movie--only in a different way.

In Cold Blood is an in depth look at the horrific slaying of the Clutters, a prosperous and well-loved family, in the small Kansas town of Holcomb in November 1959. Four members of the family, the mother and father and their two teenage children, were tied up and shot with a shotgun after what appeared to be a failed robbery (as Mr. Clutter did not keep any money at the house). The family was found the next day by close friends.

Most of the novel moves back and forth between the two killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, as they travel around the nation after the killing and the slow-moving investigation for a crime that seemed to have no motive and absolutely no evidence. I am guessing that when Truman Capote visited Smith and Hickock several times over their years in prison he was able to get very detailed accounts of their lives because most of the book contains narratives from the killers themselves--how they planned the robbery/murder, what they did after the crime was committed, and how they saw the crime in relation to their own belief systems and who they were.

I don't read a lot of crime fiction or even true crime books, but this book was absolutely captivating--once I got into the meat of the story I couldn't put the book down. First and foremost In Cold Blood is a heartbreaking account of how a family with so much promise was senselessly and brutally murdered for what basically amounted to forty bucks. Second, in the book we get an intimate glimpse at the lives of the killers and their motives. In the end, though, I still don't see any justification for what they did--why or how someone could commit such a heinous crime.

From what I understand, Capote revolutionized the concept of the nonfiction novel. I was talking to my college roommate, who received her masters in criminal justice and who read this book a few years ago, and she mentioned that the book was interesting but only really contained the cold hard facts. I guess that is where I see differently--while the book did contain the grisly facts of what happened, it was also written as a literary work. Capote takes special care in his writing to bring the characters alive but to also create a fitting ambiance for the story. While a lot of the book is contained in quotes from interviews and other documents, Capote's writing aptly captures the setting and attitudes surrounding the story. While this book isn't going to be for everyone (and no--it isn't too gory, considering), I think that the writing and what Capote is seeking to do with this work can be appreciated by many.

Did you read it? What did you think? Here are some other reviews:
Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot
Raidergirl3 from An Adventure in Reading

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Farworld: Water Keep - J. Scott Savage; Q&A AND Giveaway

Title: Water Keep
Author: J. Scott Savage
Date Finished: July 27, 2008 #43
Pages: 413 (ARC)
Rating: 4.5/5

After I signed up for J. Scott Savage's Farworld Blogtour I almost started to regret my decision--what happens if I don't like the book? What do I say then? Well, lucky for me (and the author), me not liking this book wasn't a problem--not even in the slightest. What a fun and exciting read!! And a breath of fresh air after finishing Tess.

This is going to be a long post--I can feel it. But keep reading to the end for the Q&A and giveaway portion of this post--where I will be giving away (OK...Scott will be giving away) a signed copy of Farworld: Water Keep!!

My Thoughts
When we think of a hero, someone who will save the world and the fate of mankind, we think of one who is strong and brave. Probably someone with some killer muscles. In Water Keep, however, we are immediately introduced to Marcus--an orphaned, wheelchair-bound thirteen-year-old who is about to get butt kicked by a bunch of school bullies. Although he miraculously escapes the bullies, he soon meets a strange man who claims to have come to the school to reunite Marcus with his parents. Something doesn't feel right about the man--something a little nightmarish; Marcus decides he doesn't trust the man or believe his story, so he tries to escape from the situation. But all of a sudden--whooosh--Marcus finds himself in an unfamiliar world. A place of his dreams--and strangely enough with a girl from his dreams. During her magic lesson, Kyja saw Marcus and his plight and brought him to Farworld. Farworld, as we learn, is the sister world of Earth.

Sounds a little crazy, I know. But Marcus and Kyja, although from different worlds, share a deep connection and destiny. A terrible force, the Dark Circle, is gaining control of Farworld, and has been since Marcus and Kyja were born thirteen years ago. As the wizard Master Therapass explains to the two children, together they must find the four elements, water, fire, land, and air, and bring them together to help create a drift between Earth and Farworld to help save the fate of both worlds.

Water Keep, the first book in the Farworld series, is the story of Marcus and Kyja's journey to seek out the water elements for the first piece of the alliance that will help save the two worlds. The story is absolutely magical--there are enchanted forests, mythical creatures and monsters, good characters and evil characters, humor, suspense, and of course the idea that magic is within us all. We simply need to find the magic inside of us to use it. And while the series has a lot of room for development, the groundwork was nicely laid in this book. I got to know a lot about Marcus and Kyja and their different insecurities (particularly Marcus and his disability and Kyja and her inability to perform magic), but Marcus and Kyja also learn a lot about themselves throughout their journeys. I really look forward to the next chapter of the series to find out what happens to Marcus and Kyja next--and whether or not they can continue to fight the Dark Circle.

Q&A with J. Scott Savage
After finishing the book (which I devoured!), I thought up a few questions to ask Scott about this book, his writing, and also the Farworld series. He was kind enough to meet me for an ice cream as we strolled down the Santa Monica boardwalk (alright--I was dying of heat in Texas and he was probably dying of heat in Utah, but a girl can wish, right??).

Trish: Just finished the book and have one immediate question--when is the next one coming out?? :)

Scott: Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. I’m hard at work on book two now.


Trish: I'm dying of heat here in Texas, so I thought we could go somewhere with an ocean breeze--maybe throw in some ice cream. So, I was thinking we could have our little Q&A session on the Santa Monica boardwalk.

Scott: I love Santa Monica. Do they ever have bad days here? It’s like, “the worst day in Santa Monica is better the best day wherever else you might be.” Not completely true. But it is a great place.

Trish: To get this started off--first and most important: what is your favorite ice cream flavor?

Scott: Definitely mint chocolate chip in either the green or white-colored variety. Although I am also very partial to chocolate-dipped soft serve vanilla cones.

Trish: Love chocolate-dipped vanilla! Although, good ole chocolate chip cookie dough is probably my favorite. Got a favorite amusement park ride? I love a good roller coaster, but nothing that spins (queasy stomach).

Scott: I am so with you. I can handle any drop. But not spinning. Not even the teacups. I really like the Tower of Terror, especially the one at Disneyworld. Now that is a drop.

Trish: Oh the Tower of Terror is a great ride--someone needs to build a Disney-park in Texas! In all seriousness onto the questions: 1. What was your inspiration for Water Keep and the Farworld series? How did the idea first come about?

Scott: I’m not sure there is one inspiration. But it’s more like lots of little pieces suddenly coming together. I’ve always like that idea that magic is all around us, we just don’t know it. Everybody has to find their own magic.

Actually, I didn’t choose to write fantasy. It chose me. I started writing this book at 2:00 AM one morning to get rid of a story that wouldn’t leave my head. I knew I couldn’t write fantasy, and yet I kept seeing these characters and hearing their dialog. I figured if I rolled out of bed and proved to myself that I couldn’t write it, the story would go away. That has actually worked for other projects in the past. But this time I found myself still writing five hours and five thousand words later. So I went with it. And I’ve actually enjoyed writing this more than anything I’ve ever written.

Trish: I think we know, now, that you can write fantasy! The story comes out as being very natural, so it's interesting that you didn't necessarily choose the genre. What are your favorite authors/books? How, if at all, did these help influence your writing?

Scott: Stephen R. Donaldson, Tolkien, and Terry Brooks were big influences from the fantasy side of things. I was just blown away by how fertile their imaginations were. Their books really typified entering another world through the pages of a book. As far as authors in general, I like a lot of authors for different reasons. I like Steinbeck’s ability to create a scene. I like Card’s ability to build worlds. I like how JK Rowling can make you care about even the most minor characters in her stories. I love Peter Straub’s amazing way with the English language. I think Stephen King is probably one of the greatest story tellers of the last two centuries. I love reading a good author and being inspired by what they do. I’m reading the Percy Jackson series right now and I love the mix of humor and action.

Trish: Marcus is an unusual hero. On page 336 he tells Kyja, "Who would choose a kid in a wheelchair to save their world?" I think we know the who (You), but why did you choose Marcus as our hero? What can we expect from Marcus as the hero of Farworld?

Scott: I really don’t feel like I choose my heroes. I know that sounds weird, but most writers will tell you they are learning about their characters right along with the reader. I know what Marcus will face in the future, but I really don’t know how he will react or what he will do until I am writing that scene.

Trish: What can your reader look forward to in the next books in the Farworld series? There was an awkward kiss at the end of Water Keep--will there be a romance between Kyja and Marcus? ;)

Scott: Well they’re only 13, so I don’t know if “romance” is the right word necessarily. But they are definitely a team. And occasionally they remember that they are boy and girl.

Trish: Kids nowaways do grow up fast, though! What was the writing process like for this book? Do you know how the series will end or are you taking it one book at a time?

Scott: I definitely know how the series will end. There are things I had to set up from book one, so it’s good SM let me commit to 5 books coming out of the gates. (Trish's note: SM=publisher Shadow Mountain)

Trish: Do you ever suffer from writer's block? What do you do to get past those moments?

Scott: Absolutely. I firmly believe that writers block is your mind’s way of telling you that something isn’t working right. Rather than trying to force my way through it, I try to look back over the story and see where I took a wrong turn.

Trish: What was one of the most frustrating parts of publishing this book? What advice can you give aspiring writers?

Scott: At one point I received a letter for Shadow Mountain stating that they would be unable to consider my novel, as I was under contract with another publisher. This was at a key point in getting my book accepted. And worst of all, I got the letter late on a Friday so I couldn’t do anything but worry all weekend. Turns out it was all a misunderstanding, but for two days I was in a serious funk. I would tell aspiring writers that if they believe in themselves, they should never give up. There are always going to be roadblocks thrown up in your way, but if you persevere you will get past them.

Trish: There are several themes in Water Keep. What would you like your readers to take away from Water Keep and the rest of the Farworld series?

Scott: My number 1 goal is to have the reader come away from reading my book with a feeling that their time was well spent. I think that has to be the goal of any writer worth his or her salt. Secondly, I want to reader to be fulfilled with the story in book one, but also to be anxious to see what happens next. As far as themes, different people are going to get different things out of the story. You may have a person who has been struggling with something in her life, who comes away with a feeling that she can accomplish what she needs to. You may have another person vows to look at the world around him in a different way. I don’t try to “insert” themes in my stories, but I do believe that any good story will create its own themes if that makes sense.

Trish: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions--knowing a little bit about the author certainly helps enhance the reading experience. And thanks for sharing a cone of virtual ice cream with me. :)

Scott: It was great! I think we need to go back for another scoop.

GIVEAWAY
While Water Keep doesn't hit the bookstores until mid-September, Scott has kindly agreed to give away a copy of the book before then to one of YOU! I will draw a winner on Wednesday August 27. All you need to do is leave me a comment here expressing your interest in being entered for the drawing. I'll enter your name twice if you mention this post and the giveaway on your blog (*please leave me the link to your post as I am going out of town next week and don't want to accidentally miss your mention). You don't need to have a blog to enter the giveaway, but you will need to leave me a way to contact you in case you are the winner. *Giveaway open to US and Canadian residents only.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Antonia - Willa Cather

Title: My Antonia
Author: Willa Cather
Date Finished: August 11, 2008 #46
Pages: 222
Rating: 3.5/5

I so want to like this book, I really really do. Ok, I do like this book. I so wanted to love this book, really really love it, but I didn't. Maybe it's because my last read, The God of Small Things, really captured my heart and attention and the language was so rich and filling, but this one fell a little flat for me. (Going to duck now while stones are thrown my way!). :)

My Antonia, as told by the narrator Jim Burden, is the story of growing up in a small settlement of Nebraska during the eighteen hundreds (the time period isn't clear to me). After his parents pass away, young Jim travels from Virginia to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. On his journey West he meets the Shimerda family, poor Bohemian immigrants trying to make their American start in the Midwest. He befriends the family, particularly Antonia, and throughout the novel he outlines how Antonia affected his life from the time that they were children until they parted ways as adults.

Although it seems from the title that the book is mostly about Antonia, it is also about Jim as he matures from an innocent child into an educated and worldly man. It is an unassuming novel that gives a glimpse into the daily lives of the early pioneers and their struggles through the deadly cold weather, extreme poverty, and the roughness of the land. But through all of the hardships, there is also a strong sense of community that brought these unlikely friends together--through playing with each other during the summer days, teaching each other lessons, attending dances together, and most of all supporting one another through the heartaches and lonliness that is so prevalent in these pioneers' lives.

Antonia is a wonderful character--strong willed but also compassionate, she is full of life and has touched Jim's life in so many different ways. I wish I could have gotten to know Antonia a little better, but Antonia and Jim were destined for very different lives as she stayed in the frontier as he outgrew the wilderness for a more refined existence. Due to a life changing experience when Antonia is young, she is forced to work the land and give up her education so that she can provide for her younger siblings and hope that they can have a better life. Because Jim's situation is very different from Antonia's their lives begin to diverge at a young age and most of the middle of the book moves away from Antonia and the story she and Jim share.

While this was a very pleasant read and I loved loved loved Cather's descriptions of Nebraska throughout all of the different changes of season, it was a little less climactic than I was hoping for or expecting. And even though this book is about the relationships of the different characters I kept wishing that I knew more about each one. I think maybe part of the Jim's allure of Antonia, though, is her elusiveness and uniqueness--maybe qualities that he does not quite understand but is trying to capture in his thoughts. It is clear that he cares very deeply for Antonia but in many ways she remains a mystery. I want more, Ms. Cather, than the 220 pages that you have given us!!

Have you read it? What did you think? Do you have another pioneer story you'd recommend?

They read it too:
Framed at Framed and Booked
Chris at book-a-rama

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy

Title: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Date Finished: August 8, 2008 #45
Pages: 321
Rating: 4.5/5

Let's start off being honest. It took me a good 80 pages (the first two chapters) to get into this book. I can certainly see why people are turned off from this book and my potential enjoyment of the book was incredibly questionable. But after that first 80 pages (yes, a quarter of the book!) I fell in love with the writing, the characters, and couldn't put this book down. For me, this is the type of book that comes along a few times a year and keeps me reading in search of the next one. (Yes, I am incredibly stingy with those 5/5 ratings!).

The God of Small Things is the story of how everything can change within the course of a day. Whole lives can be uprooted, fates can be changed, innocence and childhood can be lost, and death can find anyone. The story, oscillating between past and present, centers around twins (separate egg twins), Estha and Rahel, and the events that lead up to and follow the death of their English visiting cousin, Sophie Mol. Roy focuses on how so many intricate but separate details slowly come to fit together and how the ripple of all of these small things combined can still be felt years after.

Because part of the pleasure for me was slowly piecing together the timeline of the book and how everything fit together, I don't really want to give any more plot details than that. Roy gives the basic facts of the story in the beginning chapter, but the frequent jumps between past and present and the movement between so many character descriptions make it difficult to grasp anything solid in the book until later (hence my initial frustration). I'm not sure if after the second chapter I simply got used to the writing style and was able to discern whether I was reading about Estha and Rahel as children or adults or if the writing became more fluent, but I soon found myself absorbed in the story, devouring every word and being consumed by Roy's language.

I simply can't do this book justice with my thoughts--they are too many and I could write about this book forever. Some of my favorite aspects were Roy's descriptions--sometimes funny and more often heartbreaking. Her descriptions are often repetitive, taking ideas and playing with them throughout the novel, and because of that I felt I really knew and understood Estha and Rahel in all of their misunderstood childhood innocence. This repetition also helped me to remember events that were previously mentioned but soon forgotten because of the lack of development at the time. She describes everything in such detail that I could almost feel what the characters were feeling or see what the characters were seeing. And even though only little snippets of the plot were allowed at a time (teasers, really), I found myself wanting more, needing to know what happens despite the fact that I already [mostly] knew at the beginning the outcome of the novel.

In addition the the rich writing style, there was so much food for thought in this book. Roy combines a number of difficult themes that are crucial to the outcome of the story. Most important, for me, was the "Love Laws"--who deserves to be loved and how much and why. Set mostly in India during the late 1960s, untouchability was still prevalent for so many (I don't really know the history of the caste system and from what I understand this has been outlawed now??), and one of the key characters, Velutha is an untouchable. Estha and Rahel love him despite this, mostly not understanding what makes him so different, but the treatment of this special character was at times incredibly difficult for me to read. Other important themes seem to center around Western and Eastern ideals and the incongruities that exist between them. Sophie Mol's half whiteness and the ability for the grownups to immediately love her because she is white (a lot of these incongruities are seen through the children's eyes), Christianity versus Hinduism (and even Western Catholicism versus Eastern Orthodox), democracy versus communism, etc. Plot aside the book had me thinking about so many different ideals and why certain things are the way that they are.

This is a difficult book and has gotten mixed reviews from others, but this book captured my heart and will stick with me for a long time. I was incredibly affected by the book--something that hasn't happened for me since the beginning of the year (particularly with Atonement and The Book Thief) and I am glad that I finally experienced its magic. I hope to re-read this book again one day and could easily do so this weekend and discover so much that I missed. If you haven't read this book and plan to--stick through the first couple of chapters and don't forget to savor every word.

They also read it:
Joy - Thoughts of Joy
Nymeth - Things mean A Lot
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Wendy - Caribousmom
Raidergirl3 - An Adventure in Reading
Fyrefly - Fyrefly's Book Blog
(this book comes up so many times because of the 1001 list, so forgive me if I've missed you and let me know in your comments--but please leave more than just your link for some reason I find it really annoying when all I get is a link with no other commentary--eeks!)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...