Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Weight of Silence

The Weight of SilenceThe Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf

In this quiet, easy read, seven-year-old Calli Clark is best friends with Petra Gregory. Although Calli does not speak, Petra speaks on her behalf. Calli's father is a mean drunk, and her mother tries to pretend that everything is normal.

When Calli and Petra disappear early one morning, Calli's mother Antonia is forced to face what she has been trying to ignore.

Gudenkauf portrays a family damaged by alcoholism and abuse, with two sensitive children who have been deeply scarred by the disease.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Game of Thrones (and 10 reasons I disliked it)

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

Or as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters

My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention to much else. He loves them.

Then my 17-year-old son, who used to be such a great reader but in recent years has been deterred by electronics, also read the whole book and is now watching the show.

Plus one of my close friends, who doesn't usually go for fantasy, became obsessed with the show and the books, and she told me that I should give them a try.

So I gave Book 1 a try, and I will not be reading any more of the series. Remember, I finished Book 1 of the Lord of the Rings series and gave up during The Two Towers. Fantasy is not my thing, unless it's something fun like Harry Potter. I can take the violence, and I have read many dystopian sci-fi novels. It's just that this didn't hold my interest.

I should have known better when in the beginning, every single chapter was told from the perspective of a different character. I have a 50-page rule (ala Nancy Pearl). I was about to give up, but then on Page 49, we returned to a character that I had seen before. So I plowed on, thinking I might become more engaged.

When I took a break at around Page 625 to read The Chaperone and enjoyed it much more, I should have known better. 

I also should have considered that my husband never thought I would like these books. 

But I was determined to finish the book, much like I felt that I needed to read Twilight. It's such a part of our popular culture, and I wanted to know why everyone seems besotted with it.

So here are the 10 reasons I wasn't crazy about A Game of Thrones:

1. Far too many characters!
I know Martin provides lists at the end of the book, but honestly, why did there have to be so many? I lost track. Many of the characters are mentioned in passing only once or twice. Why include them at all?

2. Lack of character development
Very few of the multitude of characters are fleshed out fully. Even the primary characters...we get very little back story on how they became who they are, with only a few exceptions.

3. Lack of sympathetic characters
The only person I cared about in this book was Arya Stark. That's it. I didn't care what happened to anyone else. Daenerys was interesting, but she was brutal too. Ned was better than most of them, but even he was not loyal to his wife and had a dark past. Nearly everyone in this book lacks morals, compassion, or kindness. These people are unlikable!

4. Rape and brutal treatment of women
I had heard that Game of Thrones had lots of sex, but I didn't expect the huge amount of rape and horrific treatment of women...constant child bride rape, incest, gang rape, and forced prostitution. Is this typical of fantasy? No thank you. I'd heard that this series has more strong female characters than other fantasy books, but even those strong female characters are often powerless in such a patriarchal, misogynist culture.

5. Too much detail
Martin goes way into detail about political posturing, history of various families, and geography, while sacrificing real, valuable information. And then there's the endless, repeated titles of royalty, such as "King Joffrey, the First of His Name, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm," blah, blah, blah. 

6. Way too long
I am not scared of long books. In fact, I loved Vikram Seth's 1,500-page long A Suitable Boy. But you've got to keep me interested to make me feel like the length is worth it. This book could have used a good editor. (See #1 and 5.)

7. Endless plots
From what I understand about this series, each book does not just goes on and on into more books. I need closure. 

8. Lack of geographic perspective
I needed a map, like Tolkien provided. I am a visual person. Where in the heck is "The Neck"? How does the wall divide the kingdom? So much of this book and series is about place and kingdoms. I didn't know where the heck anything was, except sometimes "north" or "south."

9. Does not compel me to read any more
I'm not interested in seeing where this series continues. 

10. Very sad outlook on humanity
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote wonderful villains and complicated characters and had redemption in his books...the friendship in the fellowship of the ring, the rip-roaring fun in the Shire, the wisdom of Gandalf, the great adventure, the beautiful Elfen many more things to like about that series, even though those books were not my cup of tea either. As one reviewer wrote, "I have bums and alcoholic friends that blaze like Gandalf the White compared to most of Martin's characters." That reviewer went on to say "It is a story mired in filth and obscenity and shines the light on the worst conditions of human experience and offers them up as plot lines, dialogue and personal, social and political interactions."

As I mentioned above, I've read my share of dystopian literature (The Hunger Games series, The Road, A Handmaid's Tale, etc.), but even those types of books have some redemption in them, usually in the relationships between the characters. If I'm going to read a dark, dark book, I need to get some satisfaction out of it. 

My apologies to the Game of Thrones lovers!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Chaperone

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty

I took a break from reading A Game of Thrones to read The Chaperone, and I found it to be highly engrossing (much more so than Game of Thrones)!

It's the story of Cora Carlisle, a small town Kansas woman who agrees to be a chaperone for young Louise Brooks, who heads to New York City to study dance. The story is loosely based on the life on silent film star Louise Brooks, who lived life more freely than her time allowed. Cora has her job cut out for her in trying to keep the reins on young Louise.

Cora has another motivation to go to New York--to plumb the depths of her childhood. She learns about herself as a result, and most important, realizes that her high moral ideals are hypocritical and not all that they seem...and that other things in life are more important than strict morals.

The story is more about Cora's life (which is fictional) than Louise's, which is one disadvantage to the book. After Cora returns from New York, the rest of the book focuses on her life, and rarely touches on Louise's story.

But I enjoyed this book and learned some historical tidbits, always a great thing!
Louise Brooks at age 21

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Best books of 2013

With my family at the City Lights Bookstore
 in San Francisco in August
Here are the best books I read in 2013. Click the title to read my review. These are listed in approximate order of how much I liked them (#1 being the best). I'd love to hear what you thought of any of these books. If you've read any, please leave me a comment.

You can also refer to best books lists back to 2001 here. Enjoy! (This is cross-posted in Every Day Is a Miracle.)

1. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki: Canadian novelist finds a diary of a Japanese girl washed up on the beach…loved this lyrical, spiritual tale and got to see Ozeki read from the book
2. The Sleeping Dictionary, Sujata Massey: Pom loses her family in a tsunami, and her life takes many difficult courses around Indian independence (another one of my favorite authors)
3. Cinnamon and Gunpowder, Eli Brown: England, 1819…female pirate kidnaps a male chef…great foodie adventure!
4. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini: vivid landscape and complex, multilayered, and interesting characters
5. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, Gail Tsukiyama: sweeping, WWII-era story of two orphaned brothers in Japan
6. The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith: J.K. Rowling’s new detective novel—worth a read!
7. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson: stiff English major and Pakistani shop keeper fall in love
8. In the Woods, Tana French: Irish literary detective novel
9. Bruised, Sarah Skilton; young adult fiction
10. Cross Currents, John Shors; takes place in Thai desert island struck by the tsunami
11. The Burning, Jane Casey; another Irish detective novel
12. Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear: historical detective novel
13. The Little Book, Selden Edwards: time travel in Austria
14. The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams: young adult fiction

15. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall: coming of age novel of abandoned Native American boy

1. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber: the title says it all—memoir of a tattooed, alcoholic ELCA pastor with an emergent church
2. Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her HomeLaura and Lisa Ling: one sister rescues the other sister in North Korea
3. Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala: A woman loses her entire family in the Sri Lankan tsunami and battles huge grief
4. Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith, Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, ed.: essays by female Christian leaders about taboo topics
5. The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, Jennifer Worth: Inspired “Call the Midwife,” which I love
6. Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, Piper Kerman: Inspired “Orange Is the New Black” show, even better than the book
8. Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson; author returns to USA after living in the UK
9. The Invisible Girls: A Memoir, Sarah Thebarge: cancer survivor befriends Somali refugees
10. Bruce, Peter Ames Carlin: the life of the Boss
11. Loud in the House of Myself, Stacy Pershall: poignant memoir of mental illness
12. Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer: insider account of what makes the hateful Westboro Baptist Church function
13. Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn: she’s quirky, strong, and fascinating