Category Archives: Bibliophile

Books, Authors, Pieces and Parts

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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Following instructions, I powered though the rest of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  I am so happy I didn’t set it aside and forget about it.  Was it the best book I’ve read in a while?  No.  Was it a stand out favorite?  No.  Would I read it again?  No.  But……  Was it good?  Yep.  Did I like the overall story?  Yes.  Would I recommend it to a fellow reader?  Yes.

Like I always do before and after reading a book I headed to Amazon to check out customer reviews.  I read the reviews before starting the book to get a sense if the book will be worth reading in the first place.  I rarely read a book that receives less than a 3 star (out of five) approval.  Then after I finish I go back to compare my thoughts with others who have read it.  Amazon customers gave this book 4.3/5.  Not surprising, it was sweet and simple.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage
of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce

The story follow Harold Fry on an unlikely pilgrimage (go figure).  He receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie, who is in Hospice, dying of cancer.  Harold quickly wrote a response and set out on foot to mail it from the nearest post.  But soon he passes the post office and continues walking and begins to believe that he must deliver his response in person and he must walk to her, over 600 miles.  He believes that as long as he is walking she will stay alive.  Along the walk Harold meets an eclectic variety of people, some walk with him while others give him food, shelter, gear, but all of whom encourage his mission once they hear about it.  Throughout the story the reader is haunted with two obvious questions… Will he make it to his destination?  If so, will Queenie still be alive?

Along with Harold’s story, the reader is introduced to Harold’s wife, Maureen.  He loves her dearly but the two have had a rocky marriage for numerous reasons (none of which are infidelity, a thank you to the author for avoiding that overused option).  As Harold walks and transforms, Maureen goes through a transformation of her own.  She starts the story a bit annoying but finishes endearing.

The book was okay.  I didn’t hate it but I was bored.  The story follows an old, retired man who is walking over 600 miles, how much excitement can there really be.  I don’t know what I was expecting when I started reading this book but just 1/3 in I was bored out of my mind.  If you read the synopsis you get the gist of the story.  I should have expected little thrills and drama and that is exactly what I got.  Imagine a man in his 60s walking for nearly 90 days; slow and time consuming.

The story was well written, the characters were mostly likeable, and the plot was cute.  I wanted Harold to succeed in his pilgrimage and for he and Maureen to work out their problems.  I feel bad that I didn’t love the book as much as Amazon reviewers did (4.3/5 stars) but I absolutely understand why a lot of people did like it.  It was just too flat for me right now.  Maybe I needed something with a little more thrill, more adventure (like a 600 mile walk isn’t enough adventure, haha) especially after reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Harold’s adventure just didn’t measure up.  It was a sweet, beach style read that I’m sure a lot of people have/will enjoy.

To give credit where credit is due, image is stolen from www.amazon.com.  As always, that is a direct link to the book if you wanted to get your own copy.

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

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I have read a lot of really great books but there are few that leave me wishing the book would never end.  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon is nearly 700 pages and I still wanted more.  I was sad when it ended but the story was complete with no need to go on.

This was one of the four books Kyle selected for me as a birthday present back in May.  I was unsure about it after reading the synopsis on the back because comic books aren’t really my ‘thing’. But it had won the Pulitzer and I am a sucker for accolades so I decided to jump in when I was ready for my next book.

The first thing I noticed was the author’s witty voice.  The sentences felt like they belonged in a comic book.  They had the personality and attitude to match the purpose of the sentence.  There was no fluff, no unnecessary exaggerations; you got what you needed and nothing more.  I hate overly descriptive books where the author takes four pages to paint a scene down the dust on furniture and was relieved that Chabon never once wasted my time with that crap.  There was so much story on every page that even though it took me a while to read, it kept me so engaged that time flew right by.

The Amazing Adventures  of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures
of Kavalier & Clay
by Michael Chabon

Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay are the two protagonists in this epic novel.  Joe escaped from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia leaving behind his family in hopes of making enough money in America to pay their fair to join him.  Sam, his cousin had big dreams of striking it rich by producing comic books but he has no artistic talent.  The two join up, Joe illustrating while Sammy comes up with the storyline, to create a super successful series called The Escapist about a masked man who can escape from any bonding.

The relationship between the cousins is wholesome.  Both are about the same age with similar interests (magic and especially Harry Houdini) and both desire to be successful even if it is for two seriously different reasons.  They work together, and have a believable and authentic feeling relationship.  I fell in love with the young men, whole heartedly wishing nothing but the best for them.

As the two become successful Joe is hit time and time again with the news of his family’s status.  He saves every penny he can to help get them out of harm’s way even going so far as paying for the passage of other Jews to better the chances for his brother.  Over the years Joe develops a relationship with Rosa which softens him some but the future of his family is always in the back of his mind.

Sammy was raised mostly by his mother while his father traveled in a circus like setting.  Struggling with his own sexuality, a physical handicap, and the lackluster payout of his comic authorship dreams, Sammy cannot find a stream for direction in his life.

I just loved this book.  This is the type that I wish I was still in DC with my book club ladies so we could discuss it.  There was so much story and although I was reading it for what seemed like for-ev-er I still could not put it down.  There were no dull moments, no characters I couldn’t stand, no sub-plots that didn’t connect, and no missed opportunities.  There is so much to talk about but I do not want to give away any of the book so please believe me when I tell you that this book was great.  Don’t be daunted by the length of this novel just pick up a copy and read it (you can thank me later).

After finishing I was doing a little research and discovered that The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist was actually made into a comic book in three parts which I quickly ordered and am now waiting on.  Since I ordered them used from a private seller it will take a while for them to arrive but once they do I hope to devour them and write additional reviews.

Comic Book Fever

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It seems lately I have had much less time to read than normal.  The book I am currently reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon is really interesting so I want to dive into it any chance I get but those chances are much fewer and far between lately.

I am only 150 pages into this 650-pager but I am loving it.  The story follows Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, cousins who try to cash in on the comic book craze of the early 40’s.  Joe, an escaped Jew from Hitler’s Germany, has amazing artistic talent which he puts to use in hopes of striking it rich in hopes that he can get his parents and brother out of harm’s way.  Sammy, crippled by polio and living with his mother, has the dream and the drive to carve out a career in comics but lacks any artistic capabilities.

Comic books –and graphic novels- typically aren’t my thing.  I took a Modern American Novel class while in college which required me to read three graphic novels, Maus 1&2, American Born Chinese, and Gemma Bovary.  I was surprised how easily I got into them and how quickly I plowed through the pages.  They changed my perspective on graphic novels, I even read a few on my own when I worked at Borders.  Lately though, given I don’t have regular exposure to this genre like I once did, comic book and graphic novels have once again attained an unwarranted aversion. pow

When I was recently unpacking my library, I came across the only comic book I have ever purchased for myself, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.  I bought it because it makes ‘best novels’ lists year after year.  It is the only graphic novel to make Time magazine’s ‘Top 100 Novel’ list.  With all the praise and popularity of this book I bought it because I needed to read it.  But I still haven’t.

As I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay I can’t help but want to read Watchmen now.  I want to read it bad too.  If I hadn’t made the promise to myself to stick to only ONE book at a time I would have pick it up and read through the night.  But I can’t.  I am determined to finish Chabon’s book before I crack open the next one.

So that is the point of this post.  I want to read more but I seem to have less reading time lately, I am enjoying the book I am currently reading and it has inspired me to read another book which I can hardly wait to do!  It is a reader’s conundrum.  It looks like I’ll be reading through the night until this fever dies down.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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It is rare –not impossible- to find a movie that is substantially better than the book.

I picked up Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer at a bargain book sale when we still lived in DC.  Kyle had said he wanted to see the movie so when I came across it in a stack I bought it.  I love books that have been made into a movie so I scooped it up and planned to read it before we had the chance to see it.

I started reading it sometime in the middle of last year.  It was hard to get involved.  The story was told in a disjointed way.

The main story follows Oskar Schell, a nine year-old boy who goes out on an adventure to find the lock that belongs to a key he found in his deceased father’s closet.  The key was in a blue vase in a small envelope with the name Black written on the outside.  Oskar, thinks this is a clue to a mystery his dad wants him to solve like the missions he went on when his dad was still alive.  He sets out, visiting every person with the last name ‘Black’ in the five boroughs of New York City.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and
Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer

The story also is told in letters.  Letters from Oskar’s grandfather to his father before he was born, as a baby and every day as he grew up.  He left Oskar’s grandmother after she revealed to him that she was pregnant.  Without giving a direct reason he just left for the store one day and didn’t return.  In the letters he explains himself and gives accounts of his life.  He never meets his son.

Thirdly, the story is told from the perspective of Oskar’s grandmother.  Being her only grandchild and that they are neighbors, she and Oskar are incredibly close.  They talk any time of day or night on two-way radios, they spend time together when he is out of school, and since his father’s death she is the person he can connect with the most.

I didn’t enjoy the book.  It was okay but so choppy, hard to connect with.  I found myself caring less and less about the key and Oskar and wondering more about the grandparents’ relationship which isn’t really the meat of the story.  Oskar and his key mission got redundant in parts; a lot of it felt like filler.  When I flipped the last page I was glad to be done.  It was a decent story but not one I would give raving reviews about.

Then we watched the movie.

The movie didn’t focus much on the grandparents.  His grandmother had only a handful of lines but her importance to him was still conveyed.  Oskar’s grandfather left more of impression on me and Oskar than he did in the book but his story didn’t take over like it did in the book.  The movie was all about Oskar, his dad, his mom, and his mission to find the lock that matched his key.  I was engrossed in the movie from start to finish.

This was one of the few times that a movie surpassed its literary counterpart in telling such a great story.  The book’s details were unnecessary and there was no time in the movie that I felt I knew more for having read the book.  The movie captured more heart and sincerity than all 356 pages of words and pictures.  It was so much better not seeing everything from Oskar’s perspective –he has a mild form of an unnamed social disorder- so others’ emotions weren’t as visible in the movie when they were missed in the book.

I laughed, I cried, I was on the edge of my seat, and I was satiated when it was over.  There was nothing I would change.  I had a sour taste in my mouth when we sat down to watch the movie.  I figured it was going to be an ordinary way to spend a few hours one afternoon but I was totally wrong.  I was surprised to find out it only was nominated for a handful of awards and received mixed reviews from critics.  The book had me feeling indifferent to the story but the movie made me fall in love.  I would recommend the movie to anyone who asks but the book, only if you have the time.

To give credit where credit is due, image stolen from www.amazon.com

As always, that is a direct link to the book if you wish to get a copy for yourself.

What is the What by Dave Eggers

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Kyle hates shopping for gifts for me.  Birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas, etc, he gets all stressed out saying I am impossible to shop for.  This year for my birthday I came up with a plan to make picking a gift easy in him while I know I’m going to get something I’ll like; a trip to the bookstore!  Kyle would pick out a book for me, my only request was that he have a reason for picking a particular book.  It didn’t have to be anything special -maybe he liked the title- as long as he had a reason.

I had just finished a book when we went book shopping so I was ready to start a new one, particularly one Kyle picked.  Kyle bought me four books –what a great guy!- and picked one as my next book called What is the What by Dave Eggers.  It is a New York Times Bestseller, a Finalist got the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and has become required reading for incoming freshmen at a handful of universities.  Kyle did great, this book was going to be a winner.

What is the What is classified as a Novel but the preface makes it clear that the contents of this book are based on real events in the life of Valentino Achak Deng; one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys”.  It is told in the voice of Valentino, like a memoir, and is explained that he was unable to write such a book so he seeked out the help of Eggers to have to story told.

The story starts out with Valentino opening the door to a woman who says her car is broken down and needs to use the phone.  When he lets her in, she and an accomplice rob Valentino and hold him captive as they unload all of his possessions throughout the night.  Valentino begins to tell his story -somewhat- to the robbers, but only in his head.  His whole story is told, in flashback form, to all the people he encounters since the start of the robbery; the robbers, a third accomplice, a police woman, an ER nurse, coworkers, and customers at his job.

What is the What  by Dave Eggers

What is the What
by Dave Eggers

When Valentino was a child, Southern Sudan erupted in civil war and his hometown was attacked, most of its inhabitants killed.  Separated from his family and assuming they are dead, Valentino finds and joins a group of boys walking to Ethiopia for safety.  During the walk they are ambushed by helicopters, tanks, trucks, and lions.  Once the boys make it to Ethiopia they think they are safe but are soon attacked and forced to walk again, this time to Kenya where a refugee camp, Kakuma, is being established.  After years in Kakuma, Valentino is finally brought to the United States where the story ends.

The book was great, that goes without question, but I had a hard time with all the tragedy in this man’s life.  What made it harder was that this wasn’t really a novel.  It was based on a real person’s life.  Somebody actually lived this!  It took me three weeks to read over 500 pages –granted it was during the move and unpacking- but I found it was the content of the book that made it hard for me to want to read.  Valentino couldn’t catch a break.  This guy was attacked, starved, exhausted, and on the verge of death throughout most of the 500+ pages but it was his attitude, outlook on things that made it possible to keep reading.  Valentino never had a ‘pity me’ moment throughout the entire time he was in Africa.  Walking for months with little food while he friends dropped dead around him he never spent time dwelling on the negative which would have been warranted given all he had been thorough.

It is clear to me why this book is required reading for so many kids entering college and I feel it should be read by more.  I think, like Lord of the Flies this book should be read in high school so kids know what human perseverance looks like.  What it means to struggle while still being grateful for the things you do have.  This book may be difficult to read but the overall message of determination and survival is so captivating.

Would I read this book again?  Probably not (that’s not a hard “no” though).  Would I recommend this book?  Absolutely, and I think my previous paragraph touch upon my recommendation position.  I am so glad Kyle got me this book and chose it as the next book I read.  This is definitely not a ‘summer read’ or one you should undertake when you’re going to be distracted because there is so much depth and story in the details that it would be a shame if any of it was missed.  I liked it but I am definitely looking forward to a lighter subject in my next book.

To give credit where credit is due, image stolen from www.amazon.com

Like always, that is a direct link to the book on Amazon, if you wish to check it out.

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

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Almost a year ago when we started making plans to move to Hawaii I bought a few books with a Hawaiian element; The Descendents by Kaui Hart Hemmings, being one of them.  It had pretty good reviews on Amazon and the movie was getting a lot of attention.  Unfortunately, it took about seven months for me to finish due to Kylee’s birth, moving, and my reading ADD.  There was a six month hiatus from when I first put it down until I started reading again but when I did start reading again I could not put it down.

The story follows Matt King, a decedent of the last Hawaiian royalty and the majority trustee of 25,000 acres of unspoiled and highly coveted Hawaiian land which he must decide the fate of.  His adventure seeking wife lay comatose in the hospital after a sport-boating accident and will be taken off life support in the coming days.

The Descendants  by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The Descendants
by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Matt thinks it is best to spread the word of his wife’s terminal condition to their family and closest friends in person and he does so with his two daughters and one’s friend in tow.  While going through her belongings, Matt finds a note which implicates that she is having an affair so he decides to track down his wife’s lover to give him the news and allow him to pay his respects before she dies.

During the adventure to track down her lover, Brian Speer, Matt realizes how much he has been absent in his wife and daughters’ life.  His youngest, Scottie, 10, acts out, says inappropriate things, and bullies other kids.  Alex, 17, struggles with alcohol and drug abuse and is a free spirit like her mother.  Alex confirms her mother’s affair when she tells Matt she saw her and Biran flirting and entering a house.  She says she confronted her mom, they fought, and haven’t spoken since so now she is plagued with guilt about how they ended things.

Last night Kyle and I watched the movie; I was let down.  I know it is impossible to bring the richness of a 320 page novel to a 120 minute movie but I felt it really missed something.   I feel Matt’s relationship with his daughters, his absence, fears, and rebuilding was more the meat of the novel rather than locating his wife’s lover.  Hemmings beautifully developed her characters along with their relationships and dialogue.

The dysfunctional parenting evolves to something practical, not necessarily pretty but it works for them.  In the movie, I could tell the developing relationship between Matt and his daughters had a role but, I think, for someone who hasn’t read the book it may not have been so obvious. The very last scene in the movie may have hinted at it but then it is too late.  In it, Matt brings ice cream to his youngest daughter as she sits on the couch watching TV.  A few seconds later his other daughter walks into the room and plops down on the couch next to her dad and shares the ice cream too.  Nothing is said.  They just share a blanket –the one off their mother’s deathbed- and ice cream as they watch TV.  I thought it was a great scene which really brought to head their patched relationship but to someone who hadn’t read the book, would it be anything more than three people watching TV?

I loved the book.  I would read it again and absolutely recommend it to a fellow reader.  Hemmings’ writing is fluid and captivating.  She made flawed characters lovable and difficult situations realistically comfortable.  The Hawaiian she uses feels authentic but not pretentious making it a universally relatable read.  Amazon shows he has a new book coming out in 2014 and I am eager to get my hands on a copy when it becomes available.

 

To give credit where credit is due, image stolen from www.amazon.com.

Ps.  That is a direct link to the book on Amazon.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

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I pre-ordered And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini from Amazon because their price was lower than what I would have paid in-store.  I figured my book would arrive on the release date –like it did when we lived in DC- or a few days later.  The day before the release (Monday) I got an email saying my book would arrive on Wednesday.  Okay, I could wait a day past release to get my book and start reading.  When it didn’t arrive with the rest of the mail I tracked it only to discover it wouldn’t arrive until the following Wednesday!

I could not wait another week to dive into what was sure to be literary awesomeness so I went to Target for a second copy I would return once my copy arrived.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed
by Khaled Hosseini

I started reading that night.  The first chapter stole my heart.  Two children are told to go to sleep but they beg for a story.  The story that is comes next sets the theme for the rest of the novel; two people, one given what seems like a great opportunity, the other is left with a simple/non-glamorous life.  You would think the person with the great opportunity would have a far better life but as Mr. Hosseini shows, that isn’t always the case.

I was talking to Kyle about writing style and how great both Conroy and Hosseini are but in different ways.  Pat Conroy’s sentences flow in a way that is both decadent but comfortable.  He writes beautifully casual.  You don’t need to be proficient in classic literature to enjoy Conroy’s work but it is also anything but simple.  He writes like a good key lime pie classic, smooth, tart, sweet, and oh so comforting that comes full circle in the end.

But if Conroy is a key lime pie, Hosseini writes like a rich, decadent, and complex chocolate cake from the corner bakery.  His writing, like Conroy’s, is comforting and classic but it is rich in such a way that you don’t want to plow through in one sitting; you want to savor and prolong the experience.  There are many different layers –the cake- to Hosseini’s stories, all interconnected by a common theme –the frosting- wrapped in a beautiful package.

Hosseini writes in a way that doesn’t seem pushed or contrived.  Characters act like humans with believable emotions making tough decisions.   The conversations feel real, not perfect, which makes everything that much more authentic.

But I am sad to say I didn’t love this book.  I love the writing, I love the characters, I love the stories but the end did nothing for me.  His other two books, everything came together at the end.  The inner stories were more interconnected.  There were more curves and cliffhangers and right when you thought you had the story figured out, Hosseini would add another element.  This story had all that except it all didn’t come together for me tied with a neat little bow.   I don’t want to ruin it for others by giving away any details so I will end it (about the ending) here.

I enjoyed every page of this book.  I will probably read it again someday because the root of the story is so powerful and thought provoking.  It is not my favorite of Khaled Hosseini’s work but it still far exceeds  most of the other things I’ve read in my lifetime.  I am not disappointed that this book wasn’t all I was hoping it would be but it is important to remember that lightening rarely strikes the same place twice but it has so far for Hosseini with his first two books; the third strike wasn’t too far away though.

To give credit where credit is due, image stolen from www.amazon.com