Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Father's Paradise - Ariel Sabar (and some finished challenges)

Title: My Father's Paradise
Author: Ariel Sabar
Date Finished: Sept 30, 2008 #56
Pages: 326
Published: 2008
Rating: 4.5/5

I'm not sure if this book would classify as memoir, biography, or history, but regardless it was the perfect ending to this year's Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I received this ARC from Algonquin Books and at first I was a little reluctant to read it because I was afraid it would be heavy--definitely not what I'm looking for right now! This book, though, was a perfect blend of history and personal narrative.

My Father's Paradise is perfectly summed in the subtitle of the book: "A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq." Ariel was a self-centered youth growing up in Los Angeles. All he really wanted was to be able to fit in with his friends, but he felt that his father's strangeness prevented that. He grew up resenting the fact that his father, who immigrated to the US in the 1960s, didn't ever fit the mold of The American Dad. One day, though, he realized how special and unique his heritage is and so he embarked on the journey to learn about his past--a journey which became this book--and a journey that Ariel recognizes is no where close to being finished.

The book is basically comprised of three different parts that are all woven together to create this narrative (I call these sections but it isn't defined this way in the book). First, Sabar gives the history of where his father, Yona, was born--the history of Kurdish Iraq. This section was a little dense and it took me longer to read, but it is a history that I am not very familiar with and it is absolutely fascinating. I really want to give tidbits about the history and what makes this part of the world so unique, but then this review would go on and on and on... :) Second, Sabar discusses the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq to Israel in the 1940s and 50s. Yona, then just 12 years old, went with his family to Israel to start a new life. The bulk of the book explains Yona's transition into adulthood and the trials he faced both in Israel and then in the US where he attended college. Finally, the last section is Ariel's own personal narrative of growing up with an immigrant father and also his journey to learn about his father, his culture, and his family.

This is definitely one of the best books I've read this year. I learned so much about the Jewish culture and faith, Zionism, Iraq, Israel, and linguistics (Yona is an Aramaic scholar--the language of Jesus that is almost extinct). Not only did I learn a lot from this book, but the story Sabar tells is deeply touching and one that perhaps many of us can relate to as we learn about our own personal histories. The characters that come along the way are endearing, funny, poignant, and best of all real. The narrative, while very detailed, never felt weighed down and I was always eager to learn what happened next. I think my only complaint is that at the beginning Sabar oscillates heavily between his father's story and the history of Kurdish Iraq and it was hard to keep track of everything. I finally began jotting down brief notes in the margins (I know...no no!) to help me remember key dates and facts. The latter half of the book, though, doesn't contain quite as much history and the story flows much more smoothly. If you haven't already--pick this book up! I hope you'll be glad you did.

I'll leave you with Sabar's own words and perhaps what he is trying to accomplish with this book:

"Who is my father? How did he wind up so far from home? I wrote this book in part to answer those questions. I wanted to conjure the gulfs of geography and language he crossed on his life's journey from the hills of Kurdistan to the highways of Los Angeles. But I also had other, bigger questions: What is the value of our past? When we carry our languages and stories from one generation to the next, from one country to another, what exactly do we gain?" (5).


I really liked all the books I read this year--but what the heck...all male authors? Definitely didn't plan that. My least favorite is probably The Innocent Man, my favorite either My Father's Paradise or A Rumor of War. Thanks Joy for hosting such a great challenge!!

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
The Innocent Man - John Grisham
My Father's Paradise - Ariel Sabar
The Translator - Daoud Hari
A Rumor of War - Philip Caputo

Also, a while back:

Thanks Becky for a great challenge! I loooove dystopia lit, so this was a fun challenge! The Road was definitely my favorite of the bunch.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
Never Let Me Go - Ishiguro Kazuo

Monday, September 29, 2008

Matrimony Winner

I used Random.org to pick a number for the winner of Matrimony. The number was 12 and the 12th commenter was Blueviolet!! Congratulations Elizabeth!

Thanks everyone for participating and playing along with the little advice game. Communication was the most frequently given answer.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why I Blog Meme and an Award :)

CJ at My Year of Reading Seriously tagged me for How Blogging Affects Me Meme. The rules:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively
2. Link back to the person who tagged you
3. Link back to this parent post
4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all (and inform them about it)
5. Post these rules— or just have fun breaking them.

I started blogging when I lived in small-town Texas (Coleman) and didn't have much of anything else to do. I had just finished with grad school and really missed having constant book-talk with my friends. I joined a few Yahoo book clubs, but then I stumbled upon blogging--and challenges and I was immediately hooked. So, how has it affected me?

1. I am reading much more than I used to. By mid-October I will hit my 2007 total (58 books). I'm not sure how many I'll complete by December 31st, but it is certainly more than I could have ever imagined!

2. I have met amazing people who share the same passion that I do. You guys rock my world!!

3. My horizons have been broadened by incredible lengths. I am reading non-fiction, history, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, world literature, classics, etc etc. I LOVE it. It is a constant learning experience for me.

4. Keeping a blog helps me think about what I am reading in a more critical manner. And besides, it helps me remember the things that I have read and what I loved and disliked about each book.

5. I spend too much time on the blogosphere. And this is a negative that unfortunately is taking its toll of the aspects of my life outside of reading. I've realized recently that in addition to working on my personal development, I also need to work on personal relationships--namely my marriage. My husband doesn't quite understand this whole business. And while he is usually supportive, I've been spending too much time in front of the computer or my books and not enough time exploring/experiencing life with him. So, you may be seeing me less around until I can find the balance that keeps everyone happy. *Sigh*

I'm not tagging anyone this time, but I'd love to hear what you think!


These lovely ladies awarded me with this cute little button this past week. Thank you so much ladies--I love visiting your blogs and reading everything you have to say!!
Chris from Book-a-Rama
Corinne from The Book Nest

I usually am really bad about passing these back out--mostly because I can't award it to everyone otherwise it would be a big huge long list. :) The following are all special to me for different reasons. Some I've known for a short time, some since I started blogging. Some are blogging veterans, some are newer to the bookblogosphere. Go check them out and say hi!

Ramya from Ramya's Bookshelf
CJ from My Year of Reading Seriously
Laura from Reading Reflections
Kim L. From Bold. Blue. Adventure.
Michelle from Michelle's Reading Room
Dar from Peeking Between the Pages

The rules are simple--tag a handful of people whose blog you love!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent

Title: The Heretic's Daughter
Author: Kathleen Kent
Date Finished: Sept 23, 2008 #55
Pages: 332
Rating: 3/5

To be fair and honest and going to preface this by saying that I don't think I would have been really drawn into any book I read this week, and so I'm not sure if it is the book or if it's me that failed. When I came home from work on Friday and saw the book leaning against my front porch I was so excited I started it immediately. I read and read but was never really drawn into the book. The problem is that I can't quite figure out why, which makes me wonder if it is simply me. The two reviewers below loved the book...

The Heretic's Daughter is set in the late 1690s in the settlements surrounding Boston. Well--you all know the basic story: Salem witch trials, heretics, people speaking against others, and finally witch hangings. The story is told through the eyes of young Sarah whose family has just been uprooted from their hometown as they unknowingly carry smallpox to their new residence. Along with the smallpox, there are several other incidents that make their neighbors wary of Sarah's family and when the names start being called out for those who are witches, Sarah's mother is one of the first to be called to trial.

Much of the book is about Sarah's struggle to come to terms with her life and the events that have changed everything forever. She struggles with her desire to be loved by her family but also with her age and inability to quite understand the adult world. I was often impatient with Sarah, but I think this is Kent's ability to craft a nine-year-old well and to write a believable narrative. The second half of the book deals heavily with the trials as well as the imprisonment of Sarah's family after they have been accused of witchcraft. The second half of the book was incredibly heartbreaking and speaks of the injustices that occurred in the late 1690s in Salem and the Boston areas. This time period has always been fascinating to me--if you like history and non-fiction I would recommend Governing the Tongue by Jane Kamensky--it goes into some detail about the Salem trials as well as other events in early colonial Massachusetts (link takes you to Amazon, not a review).

Overall even despite my lower rating, I would recommend this book. I think that many would find it enjoyable and interesting. There was something about it that never really drew me in, though. Most of the story is mostly introspective and so in many ways it seems as though Sarah is the only really developed character. Kent also uses the first half of the book to "set up" the story and so it wasn't really until I was two-thirds into the book that I was really interested in the events (i.e. the imprisonment). But that last third of the book--pretty darn good.

See what they thought:
Corinne; Wendy

Monday, September 22, 2008

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin GIVEAWAY!!! ~ Sticky Post

*This is a Sticky Post--Scroll down for newer posts

Joshua Henkin has agreed to giveaway a signed copy of his New York Notable Times novel Matrimony, which was recently released in paperback. Isn't that a great new cover?? Click HERE to read my recent review.

To sign up for the giveaway, please leave me a comment below. Also leave your email address if it is not easily accessible or if you don't have a blog that is public (you don't need a blog to enter). Spread the word about the giveaway and let me know and you'll have two entries! I'll draw a name on Monday September 29 at 6:30 am central time. Josh has kindly agreed to ship across seas. :)

Also, I recently received an email from Josh about an offer he is giving to book clubs for a free phone chat!! How cool would that be to talk about this book with the author himself?? Click HERE by Midnight September 30th to sign up! If you don't win, be sure to check out Josh's website for great discussion questions and other information about the book. This one certainly makes a great book club book.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Half of a Yellow Sun
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Date Finished: Sept 18, 2008 #54
Pages: 541
Rating: 4.25/5

I have been wanting to read this book for a long time--ever since Adichie was announced as the winner of the Orange Prize last year--so I jumped on the opportunity it read it with an online discussion group this month. For some reason I had it in my head that this was going to be a tough book to get through and I was going to need some motivation, but despite the week it took, I felt like I drank this book down quickly.

Half of a Yellow Sun is an incredibly emotionally moving story of the Nigerian-Biafran War during the 1960s. Oh how I am learning this year! I feel a little sheepish saying I had never heard of Biafra before reading this book and actually looked it up to see if this was a fictional war for the purposes of this story (eeks...don't tell anyone!!!). The book is steeped in post-colonial theory that I can't even begin to cover in this post, but basically the book deals with the after-effects of the Africa carving table and the country lines being drawn willy-nilly mostly by the Europeans (am I being unfair??). When the Igbo people began being targeted and massacred by the Northern Nigerians, they seceded to create their own country, Biafra, which existed for three years.

The book focuses on five main characters and how they and the people around them cope with terrors the war brings. The characters are all so different and Adichie develops them fully and beautifully. Olanna, who is elegant and desired, comes from a rich, educated, upperclass family. She and her lover, Odenigbo, have taken in Ugwu, a local village boy, first as a servent but later almost as their own. Olanna's twin sister, Kainene, makes a colorful contrast to Olanna's coolness with her sharp tongue and attitude. The final member of the cast of characters is Kainene's lover Richard, a British expatriate, who feels as Biafran as anyone else but struggles to prove himself to others because of his whiteness.

Each chapter shows a different side of the story as we see the effects of the war through Olanna, Richard, and Ugwu. Although they are not narrating their own stories, each perspective adds to the richness of the book. I have to be honest, though, that I had the toughest time with Richard's portions of the book. Because Olanna and Ugwu reside in the same house, at times it felt like Richard's story was something completely tangential and separate from the rest of the book. Also, the female characters in this book are so incredibly strong that Richard always seemed like a weak person--not really one who I always admired.

Overall I really liked this book. However, I think I set the bar pretty high with The God of Small Things and I really wanted this one to compare. Unfortunately it didn't for me--but in many ways I think I am being overly critical of the book. I didn't understand why Adichie jumps from the early 60s to the late 60s to the early to the late. I think one jump might have been effective, but by the time I finished the book I had forgotten much of the second portion except some of the foreshadowing effects that were used there. Also, some of the transitions in the book were a little off for me. For example, she would mention someone's death and immediately move on as if it didn't happen. It never really sat well with me and seemed too casual for the subject matter. Finally, I hated the ending. *Sigh* I was really caught up in "how the heck is this thing going to end!" and when it did finish, I couldn't believe that was it. Fell completely flat. BUT, other than those minor minor things, I really liked the book and recommend it wholeheartedly. :)

Don't believe me??...just check out what these guys thought:
Natasha; Gautami; Dewey; Literary Feline; Eva; Raidergirl3; Caribousmom; Jill; Marg
(my Google reader isn't liking me today and I had to dig for a few of these--so let me know I missed yours)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata

Title: Snow Country
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Date Finished: Sept 13, 2008 #53
Pages: 142
Rating: 3.5/5

As I delve into my first experience with Japanese literature, I find myself becoming entranced by the culture--luckily I've got a few other books on my shelf so I can continue to learn more. I can't believe I haven't read any Japanese lit before now! I did read Memoirs of a Geisha and really enjoyed it, but it just isn't the same experience.

Snow Country is at the same time beautiful and lonely written in lyrical prose reminiscent of a haiku. In the introduction, the translator (Edward G. Seidensticker) notes, "The haiku manner presents a great challenge to the novelist. The manner is notable for its terseness and austerity, so that his novel must rather be like a series of brief flashes in a void. In Snow Country Kawabata has chosen a theme that makes a meeting between haiku and the novel possible" (7).

The story is about a man, Shimamura, from Tokyo who travels to the isolated snow country and there meets Komako, a beautiful and young geisha. After a reluctant start, the two strike up a friendship that evolves into a love affair. But as the novel and their affair progress, it becomes clear that the two can never really fully give each other to one another. Their lives--he a big city dilettante and she a country geisha--are quite incompatible.

This is a slow novel with much focus on the characters and their interaction with one another. There are a few moments of tension--usually involving Komako's rival Yoko--but other than that this book for me was more about beauty of the words on the page (yes, unfortunately I can't read Japanese, so it is a translation). I read this one rather quickly and mostly before bed when I was tired, so I am sure that I missed a lot of the symbolism. Also, especially at the beginning of the novel, there were a lot of flashbacks and often I had to re-read to figure out when the action was taking place. The ending to me came out of nowhere, but Seidensticker insists in his introduction that it fits perfectly. That's why he's the expert. ;) But I think this passage aptly portrays the feeling of the novel:

"Now that he knew Yoko was in the house, he felt strangely reluctant to call Komako. He was conscious of an emptiness that made him see Komako's life as beautiful but wasted, even though he himself was the object of her love; and yet the woman's existence, her straining to live, came touching him like naked skin. He pitied her, and he pitied himself" (106).

Kawabata wrote this in several segments from 1937-1948. In 1968 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

CJ from My Year of Reading Seriously initially brought this book to my attention last year when she read it for the challenge--she provides some really beautiful quotes from the book and I immediately put it on my amazon wish list. (Let me know if you've reviewed it and I'll add it to the list--my Google reader says she's it, but poor reader is usually wrong)

**By the way, speaking of haikus, Fyrefly is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card for a haiku of your recent reads in honor of BBAW. Check it out at Fyrefly's Book Blog.

So I'm an amateur, but this is what I came up with:

Passionate affair
In the Japan Snow Country
Heartbreak is fated.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Short Story September #2 & 3: Ellison and Cheever

Since I can't participate in this fall's read-a-thon (insert infinite sadness face here), I'm having my own personal read-a-thon today (hop over to Dewey's site to read the details she recently announced). I was thinking that we would get thrashed by Ike today, but it looks like he's gone to the east of us and all we've gotten is drizzle. Of course it started AS SOON AS I opened my front door to go running this morning. Poo!! So, like Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West), I've been hiding indoors as if the water would melt me. I finished Snow Country and will have my review up later, but I also finished a couple of (or coupla) short stories.

from Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories (13 pgs)

Two boys have just finished several boy scout tests in order to earn a few badges are are making their way home. Along the way they encounter a carnival and after that pass by Aunt Mackie's house--a woman who causes infinite fear within the boys: "I was afraid. For though I had seen the old woman about town all my life, she remained to me like the moon, mysterious in her own familiarity; and in the sound of her name there was terror."

The first part of the story is mostly banter between the nameless narrator and his friend Buster, who appears to be much tougher than the narrator. Buster speaks about how in addition to being a boy scout he also wants to be an Indian scout, which is apparently much more fearsome and exciting to Buster than being a boy scout. The two boys discuss the band instruments as they pass the carnival and their dialogue contains a lot of sexual innuendos despite the fact that they are only eleven.

The meat of the story, however, comes when the boys are passing Aunt Mackie's house and the narrator sees a beautiful naked young woman in the window. He is entranced by her and can't take his eyes off of her body and the way that she is dancing alone. The first section was difficult for me to get into, but once the boy sees the woman, the tone changes and while I don't really want to give any quotes from the section (I know I don't have young readers--but still), the way that the boy becomes mesmerized by the female body changes the focus of the story from the fun and play of young boys to the desires of a boy on the brink of manhood. On another note--I highly recommend The Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison (his only novel, but sections of it frequent short story anthologies--especially Battle Royale).

from The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (12 pgs)

I told Nymeth after reading her post about Cheever's stories that I would pick something up by him--that was kind of a while ago. Out of the two I read today, I think I liked this one better. I really like irony, dark humor, and social commentary and this contained all of that and more. While I don't think it is my favorite story ever, I did get a few little chuckles out of it.

The narrator (Moses) of "The Death of Justina" is your basic suburban Joe Schmo. He's said he's going to give up drinking and smoking, but when no one cares that he did he begins to steal away cigarettes and drinks martinis in the closet. When his boss asks him to write a TV advertisement of a youth elixir, he gives him a rambling garbled mess of blah. And to top it all off, when his wife's cousin, Justina, passes away on their living room couch, he finds out that because of some weird zoning rule she can't legally die or be buried where they live. Oh wait--to TOP it all off, there's really nothing he can do about the ordinance because all of the town council members are out of town.

While there was a little bit of rambliness to the story that I didn't love, it has definitely given me a taste for his work and I'll be looking for more of it. I recently got The Wapshot Scandal at a booksale, so maybe I'll start there instead of going for more short stories (since I do better with actually reading novels rather than short stories). Has anyone read it? Thoughts?

Thanks again to CB for hosting the September Short Story Challenge!

What are YOU reading this weekend? Are you staying indoors like me with a book or are you out eating up the last bits of summer?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Short Story September #1: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Fitzgerald

Title: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I found out about CB's Short Story September Challenge I had all of these grand ideas about reading a ton of short stories. The truth is, I'm kind of bad when it comes to reading them. I do love them, but I think I have a tendency to pick apart the stories so I don't necessarily enjoy them as much when I'm reading them alone. I do short stories better in a classroom setting where I can analyze with others.

But, I'm going to try and put all of that analyzing aside and simply enjoy a few great stories!! So, with the upcoming movie, I thought "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" would be perfect. And I love Fitzgerald--so how can you go wrong with that?

"The Curious Case" follows the life of Benjamin from birth until death. The curious part about Benjamin is that he is born as an old man and ages in reverse so that at the time of death he is an infant. Kind of reminds me of the criticism that we spend our youth working our butts off so that we can enjoy it when we are too old to. But with Benjamin, as he "ages" his mentality goes with it. When he is born, he has all of the stubbornness of a 70 year old man and in old age has all of the purity and innocence of a child. The story touches upon all of the milestones of a man's life with the twist of Benjamin's reverse aging and the troubles and incongruities it presents.

This is a heartbreaking story in many ways, and Fitzgerald tells stories so beautifully.
On the night that Benjamin meets Hildegard Moncrief:

"It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless color of platinum, and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter. The open country, carpeted for rods around with bright wheat, was translucent as in the day. It was almost impossible not to be affected by the sheer beauty of the sky--almost" (from The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald p. 170)

Other Fitzgerald stories I'd recommend: "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," and "May Day."

How's that for enjoying? And now for your viewing pleasure--watch the gorgeous trailer for the upcoming movie. It's hard to understand how the movie will work, but doesn't it look enticing anyway? I have a weakness for previews (and Brad Pitt), and I could watch this one over and over.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love Take 2; Award and Nomination Miscellany

Title: Eat, Pray, Love
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Date Finished: Sept 8, 2008 #52
Pages: 331

I read this one almost a year ago just because and finished it again today for my face-to-face book club meeting. I decided not to rate it this time around--but I didn't read my previous review until just now and was surprised that I had rated it so high the first time around. My ratings tend to change over time as I continue to think about the book. I forgot what I had rated it, but if I had to guess I would have guessed a 3-3.5. After reading it again I'd say I had it right the first time and will probably remember it more fondly now. And let me reiterate how much I love Liz. I don't always relate to her and we are incredibly different, but I simply really really like her.

I remember liking the book the first time but feeling highly uncomfortable with the whole spirituality aspect of the book (which I failed to mention in my first review--or maybe that's the part that I just couldn't put my finger on at the time). But this time around I was able to enjoy the book a little bit more because I knew the story and didn't have to feel bogged down with a lot of the more technical aspects of the book (although I don't feel that Liz is ever really preachy). Instead of going back through what I thought about the book, I thought I simply remember a few of my favorite quotes from the book that I marked this time around:

"Depression and Loneliness track me down after about ten days in Italy...They don't need to show me their badges. I know these guys very well. We've been playing a cat-and-mouse game for years now. Though I admit that I am surprised to meet them in this elegant Italian garden at dusk. This is no place they belong" (47). I love this whole section, but it's too long for me to quote.

"I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair" (79). Oh yes, Liz. I completely understand!

"You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight" (115).

"...A true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that's holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake...Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it" (Richard from Texas 149).

"'So what can we do about the craziness of the world?' (Liz) 'Nothing.' Ketut laughed, but with a dose of kindness. 'This is nature of world. This is destiny. Worry about your craziness only - make you in peace'" (251).

You Make Me Enjoy Blogging!!

I've been passed on this very lovely award first by Ramya (who designed it) and then by Dar and Bethany. I'm supposed to pass it on to three people and would love to give it back to Ramya, Dar, and Bethany--all three who completely deserve it, but I know I must keep the train going. So thank you so much, ladies, for the mention! And thank YOU for making blogging such a joy for me.

So Nymeth, Debi, and Bellezza, I'm passing this on to you--it is always such a joy to visit your blogs and also to have you visit here. All the people who I visit and who visit me make me enjoy blogging--and it's difficult to narrow down to just three. Without all of you, blogging wouldn't be near as fun. I had no idea that I was joining such a wonderful community of bloggers, but I'm so glad I did. Alright--goin for the Kleenex. ;)


Have you seen the nominations for Book Blogger Appreciation Week--I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see myself nominated for one of the best commenters. Thank you thank you for mentioning me. Especially when I've been gone so much this summer and feel like I'm always behind in my commenting (after not checking my reader all weekend because I was out of town I'm into the hundreds again). This nomination means a lot--especially considering the commenters that I'm mentioned alongside!! Thank you thank you thank you!!

I was actually surprised to see a lot of blogs that I am not familiar with, but it was fun to see some friends listed among the nominees. Click HERE to see the nominations and HERE to cast your vote. You have until September 12th to do so.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Matrimony - Joshua Henkin

Title: Matrimony
Author: Joshua Henkin
Date Finished: Sept 4, 2008 #51
Pages: 291
Rating: 3.5/5

Thanks to my pal, Bookfool, for letting me borrow the following review format that she also borrowed. Thank you dear! (Edited: I had actually hoped this would make my review shorter, but alas. Deal with it!).

What led you to pick up this book? I've read a few stellar reviews (see below) of this book recently that when I received the opportunity to read it I took it! It was actually the previously mentioned Bookfool who got me interested in the book when she mentioned it was more of a character study, which I love in fiction. I've always been more of a character-driven type of gal rather than plot-driven.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Spanning 20 years, Matrimony follows the relationship of Julian and Mia from the very beginning when they meet in the laundromat through the bumps in the road that mold their relationship into what it eventually becomes. Because of the time span, there are several side stories that help shape the book and give it more depth. Really this book contains so much of what many of us can relate to--college years and finding ourselves, friendships that wax and wane, loved ones diagnosed with sickness, growing up and realizing things aren't how they seem when you are a child. Really, at 291 pages this book could have been much longer! Sometimes it felt like too much was being crammed into too few pages, and I would have liked to have seen some of the side stories develop a little more.

What did you like most about the book? After reading some crazy reads over the past month it was nice to relax over the long weekend with this one. You'll read elsewhere that it isn't action-packed, that a whole lot doesn't really happen in this book. And to be honest that was kind of nice. The book is about relationships--and of course things will happen in relationships and to relationships--but the meat of the story was how Julian and Mia grew both individually and as a couple throughout the novel.

What did you think of the characters? I had a difficult time relating to the characters and I didn't love either of them. I think given a longer novel I could have gotten to know them a little better and really come to appreciate what makes each of them tick. My favorite parts in the novel were when Julian and Mia were reflecting upon some of the things that had happened in their individual pasts (for example, Mia reflects upon a year she spends as a nanny in France). The strength of this novel certainly comes from when Henkin takes a deep look at the characters and really makes them come to life. The dialogue was a little bit "eh" for me--but then again I'm not really much of a dialogue person.

Recommended? All you have to do is click through some of the reviews below to see that people really love this book! And I can absolutely see why. I think I would compare it maybe to an Anne Tyler novel (don't shoot me if I'm wrong since I've only read one) or Anita Shreve's work (several of which I've read). I didn't love the book, but I think a lot of that comes from it being just too darn short!

Cover thoughts: Ha ha! Bathrooms freak me out. I am NOT a germ freak by any stretch of the imagination. But there it is. :) I much much much prefer the cover of the brand new paperback edition that was recently released. What do you think of the cover? Does is scream Wedded Bliss to you? Really it reminds me that I need to clean the bathrooms. Ha!

Visit Joshua Henkin's website HERE. Josh has written a few very interesting essays about book clubs and I think Matrimony would make a great pick for book clubs. The book is accessible and as I mentioned above we can all relate to a piece of the story. Josh has some great discussion questions posted (and you can see the fabulous paperback edition--which I will be giving away with Josh's help in a few weeks).

See what they thought:
Gautami (My Own Little Reading Room)
Bookfool (Bookfoolery and Babble)
Mrs. S (50 Book Challenge)
Heather J. (Age 30 - A Year of Books)
Dewey (Hidden Side of a Leaf)
Bethany (B&b Ex Libris)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman

Title: Neverwhere
Author: Neil Gaiman
Date Finished: August 29, 2008 #50
Pages: 370
Rating: 3.5/5

I read this one for the bonus section of my classics challenge but I'm not sure if I would classify it among some of the others listed. Was it a good read? Yes! Was it a fun read? Yes! Will people still be reading it and talking about it 50 years from now? I don't know--what do you think? Do you think we can predict which books will turn into classics? I have a few ideas but what do I know??

Neverwhere, my second Gaiman book, is a whirlwind ride through the otherside of London--the dark and even magical side--London Below. When Richard Mayhew, a young professional, stumbles upon a bleeding girl on the sidewalks of London, he doesn't realize that his entire life is going to change as he is thrust into a world he didn't know existed. When Richard makes a decision to help the girl, Door, he unknowingly trades his life in London Above for a new life in London Below. As Richard struggles with the discovery that his loved ones and acquaintances no longer know him, he decides to help Door on her quest for knowledge in hopes that he will be able to get his life back in London Above. I suck at summaries. :) So let's get on with what I thought.

This book was a lot of fun to read--I don't normally read this type of fiction (not even sure how to classify it) but I'm glad it was recommended to me--see the bloggers below--and that I read it. The characters were rich and varied, and the cast of secondary characters is fantastic. To be honest, I thought some of these characters were better developed than the main characters--especially Richard who seemed a little flat. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar are probably by far the creepiest and most evil villans I have ever encountered. They were vile in every way but they were also strangely comedic. I also really liked the marquis de Carabas even though I never really felt I could trust him.

In terms of plot, it took me quite a while to get into this book because of the constant flipping of focus between the different subplots. There was too much going on with not enough information divulged to keep my interest at the beginning. Basically I was too confused. Once the plots started coming together I was hooked to the book and couldn't put it down. I loved the journey this book took me on through all of the different locations of the London Below (which correspond in some way to London Above) and I really liked the message at the end of the book.

But in the end, I have mixed feelings about the book. I think maybe the deal is that with all of the praise that Gaiman's works have received, I've expected to be blown away with the actual writing. The plots of Stardust and this one were both very captivating but I've been left with want for more writing. The climactic highlights of each book, for me, happen too quickly with little buildup and little development. Anyway, I enjoyed the book nonetheless.

Other reviews:
Stephanie (Stephanie's Confessions of a Bookaholic)
Unfinished Person (Just a (Reading) Fool)
Gautami (My Own Little Reading Room)
Dewey (Hidden Side of a Leaf)
Raidergirl3 (An Adventure in Reading)
Nymeth (Things Mean A Lot)
Rhinoa (Rhinoa's Ramblings
Melody (Reading Corner)
(Let me know if I've missed yours!)

In other bookish news:

C.B. from Ready When You Are, C.B. is hosting Short Story September. Click Here for details.

Natasha from Maw Books is reaching out to us for the Reading & Blogging for Darfur event. She is doing some amazing things--so pop by and give her your support. From what I understand this will be an all month initiative. (See button below)

Lezlie from Books 'N Border Collies is offering a giveaway from Nefertiti AND The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. Hop over Here to enter into the giveaway and mention that I sent you :)

If you haven't heard by now, you must be *trying* not to pay attention. :) But My Friend Amy is hosting Book Blogger Appreciation Week from September 15-19th. Not quite sure how all of this is going to go down, but I appreciate my fellow book bloggers and it is sure to be fun. Check it out Here. (See button below)

Wendy from Caribousmom has started a new blog entitled Women Writers. I look forward to lots of new discoveries, to be sure.

I guess that's it! I hope to finish Matrimony in the next few days and then it's another weekend away (down to South Padre Island for a wedding that was supposed to be on the beach but thanks to Dolly will be at a restaurant...will be interesting).

I hope everyone has a great Labor Day!

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