A Change of Heart about Jodi Picoult?

April 8, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, entertainment, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, Worst of the Year | 18 Comments
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At the time I started this blog, I was very much in to Jodi Picoult. My Sister’s Keeper was the first novel I read, but Plain Truth was my favorite. Before January of 2007 I’d also read and enjoyed The Tenth Circle, Vanishing Acts, Salem Falls, and The Pact. Over the course of ’07, I read three of her books. I enjoyed Nineteen Minutes, finishing it just shy of a month before the Virginia Tech Massacre brought much of Southwest Virginia to it knees. Still, Keeping Faith was just so-so and Perfect Match was such a wall banger that I would have categorized it as the worst book I read in ’07 had it not been for The Emperor’s Children.

I’ve read nine of her books and enjoyed – if not thoroughly enjoyed – seven of them. Still, I am hesitant to even pick up and hold a copy of her latest novel, Change of Heart? It might be because there are some elements involved that are related to the Keeping Faith (miracle healings) and Perfect Match (Catholic priest). I also left Vanishing Acts, The Pact, and Nineteen Minutes feeling I had gotten too much of a real sense of what it was like to be a man imprisoned. Are those connections worth overlooking her novel or is it just that I’m over her? I certainly hope not because when her work is good, it makes for an amazing ride.

If you’re a Jodi Picoult fan, I would like to hear what you have to say. What are your favorite novels? Did you like them all? Why or why not? Have you or are you planning on reading Change of Heart? I’m hoping that I might be able to grab on to the coattails of some enthusiastic readers.

* Comments may contain spoilers *

#63 ~ Through Tempest Forged

April 7, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading | 2 Comments
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Cover of Through Tempest Forged

Through Tempest Forged by Barbara Passaris

This novel tells the story of Paul and Elizabeth Rogers as they watch and guide their children grow up and get married as the country is on the brink of the Revolutionary War. The Rogers have three daughters and two sons and live on a plantation that Paul and his father built through hard work and determination. As their daughters move toward marriage, the country is moving toward revolution. For Paul, who remains loyal to the King of England, this makes finding suitable husbands that much more difficult.

I really wanted to enjoy this novel. It is over 600 pages and I love to sink my teeth into large novels. Unfortunately, I was not able to get past page 140. While I certainly got to know the Rogers family, the dialog was almost too formal and the narrative was often repetitive. For example, Paul and Elizabeth have several terse discussions about their “run-away” son, John Peter. While I understand that this situation is upsetting to them and that they are not completely of one mind about how to handle it, I got impatient with how often this part of the story was reinforced. When story points weren’t being revisited, the characters were often thinking things that overstate the obvious. It was this type of narration that made the book seem feel heavy. If the writing had been tightened, the author could have covered in 30 to 40 pages what occurred during the 140 I read.

Torn

March 26, 2008 at 9:18 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Historical Fiction, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 9 Comments

Through one of the boards I participate in, I heard about a novel written by another member.  I liked the discussions I had with the author, so I purchased her book.  About a week ago I started it.  It is over 600 pages and there is something about a huge novel that I just love.  I enjoy feeling the weight of the book shift from my right to my left hand over time.  Last night I got to page 140 and had to set it aside.  I had absolutely no desire to continue.  I’m really disappointed because I wanted to enjoy this book and be supportive.  It felt like work to get through each page and I have too many other books I want to read.  Last night was hot and heavy book promiscuity fueled by an absolute lack of passion for my current book.

Not every book is for every reader.  There’s no doubt about it.  I’ve written unfavorable reviews before without hesitation.  The difference here is that I have a loose connection with this author.  Even though my opinions about this novel are not in anyway personal, I don’t want her to feel bad.  Still, I want to keep writing about my reading experiences honestly.  So, how do I handle this?

I’m torn…

#60 ~ Eat, Pray, Love

February 27, 2008 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Memoir, Religion, Worst of the Year | 4 Comments
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Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

I don’t typically read books about food. For whatever reason, I get bored reading paragraphs filled with nothing but food preparatory details. Knowing this about myself, I never considered even picking up this book off of the shelf to read the description. The only reason I am reviewing this here is that a co-worker offered to let me borrow this book on CD. In the end, my instincts to stay far away from this book were dead on – just not for the reasons I expected.

Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir which describes the impact taking a year away from home to heal from a hard divorce had on Elizabeth Gilbert. During that time, she stayed in three countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia. The book is separated into three sections for each country. She goes to Italy to learn Italian, to India to study at her guru‘s ashram, and to Indonesia because a wise man she once met there indicated that she would eventually return to stay with him.

During the Italy section, this book was almost poetic in its theme of finding and honoring oneself. However, the poetry of the book was too often interrupted with seemingly unnecessary references to current American politics. Because of how well the rest flowed, those comments, which ranged from off-hand comments to an entire chapter dedicated to thanksgiving that George W. Bush wouldn’t be president much longer, felt like huge potholes in an otherwise smooth road. They did not add to her experiences with struggling between career and marriage, her desire not to have children, and her spiritual longing. They simply dated a memoir that could otherwise be timeless.

Skipping over the political banter was as easy as pushing the forward button, but there was no way to avoid her agonizing discussions of her spiritual struggles as related to Swammy G, her guru’s guru. It didn’t take me long to start begging for a long soliloquy about cooking two cups of rice a single grain at a time. Still, I was committed to finishing the book until *it* happened.

Play by play of *it*

  1. 1. Open chapter with Gilbert’s thoughts on the merits of “cherry pick” from the worlds’ religions to discover appealing spiritual practices.
  2. 2. Literate Housewife rolls her eyes when Gilbert slips a closed minded and oversimplified statement about the Taliban and the Christian Coalition into an otherwise open-minded discussion.
  3. 3. Continued exploration of the idea that all of the worlds’ religions (sans Taliban and Christian Coalition of course) provide elements of Truth.
  4. 4. Literate Housewife looks out the window of her car and wonders what it is about grass that makes cows eat it so ravenously.
  5. 5. Hearing “That’s me in the corner.” jolts Literate Housewife back into Gilbert’s diatribe.
  6. 6. “Oh, no. She isn’t.” says Literate Housewife.
  7. 7. “That’s me in the spotlight.” says Gilbert.
  8. 8. “She musn’t!” panics Literate Housewife.
  9. 9. Choosing my religion.” says Gilbert.
  10. 10. Literate Housewife screams. She turns off the radio thinking that many fundamentalist Christians and Elizabeth Gilbert now have something in common – the misuse of secular lyrics.

_____________________________

Congratulations, Liz Gilbert. You’ve earned your liberal street cred. You just lost me along the way.

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To buy this book anyway, click here.

#55 ~ Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

January 27, 2008 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Disappointment, Family, LibraryThing, LIfe, Memoir, Religion | 4 Comments
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Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen

Sometime toward the end of the year I was adding some books to my library on LibraryThing and wanted to add a book I received from my parents for Christmas the year before. It is a book of vintage postcards from Grand Rapids, my home town. I was sitting in the office at the time and the book was in the living room. I was feeling too lazy to walk into the other room and, figuring that there couldn’t be that many books about Grand Rapids, Michigan, I just used “Grand Rapids” to search for it. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few interesting books about my home town. Of those, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen stuck out when I read the following description:

“As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme…”

I was one of those blonde-haired, blue-eyed (well, slightly green as well) Jennifers and I was very curious to learn how I reigned supreme (it didn’t feel that way at the time). Because I wanted to read this book very badly, I rented it from the library (I’m trying to economize). I figured that if I loved it the way I knew I would, I’d buy it later. In the end, I’m glad that I just rented it.

There is something fun and invigorating about reading about your home town and it was even more exciting for me when the author’s family moved to the Ken-O-Sha area. That’s very close to where I grew up. I recognized many of the locations mentioned in the book as well as the type of people as well. I may have been Dutch, blonde, and named Jennifer, but there are more ways of sticking out like a sore thumb in southeast Grand Rapids than by being Vietnamese: you could be Roman Catholic. In an area heavily populated by members of the Christian Reformed Church, being Catholic is just as “unfortunate.” As Nguyen describes her early experiences living next doors to CRC neighbors, it brought me back to my childhood as well.

This first third of the book felt very authentic to me. I laughed out loud at the way she described her uncle he discovered after enrollment that Calvin College was “serious” about being a CRC school. I related to the scenes where Nguyen experienced orchestrated attempts to “save” her under the auspices of a neighbor girl simply bringing other girls over to play. I know very well the disgusted way those other girls reacted when she made it clear that she was not interested in their God. I was five or six the first time I was told by another child that I was going to hell for “worshiping Mary.” It was so frightening and I can remember the way my chest felt as I ran home crying to my mother. When there aren’t vocal attempts to convert you, there is always the feeling of being held away at an arm’s distance. There was one CRC family that wouldn’t let their children play with my siblings, but they had no problem asking my parents to borrow our camper. That always made me so angry. So, when a scandal rocked our neighborhood in the late 80s, I did take delight in it. The neighbor lady from across the street had apparently been having an affair with one of the husband around the block. I did feel bad for the pain the children and the other spouses experienced, but for me also felt somewhat like a vindication. Although I’m not proud of feeling this way, it was nice to see two people from that group, who made no secret that they were better than my family simply because of their religious affiliation, fall in such a public and shameful way.

While I related to Nguyen’s early experiences, I did not find her memoir enjoyable as a whole. About a third of the way through it went back in time for no apparent reason. From that point forward, the book felt disjointed. There were also large portions of the book that described food and books in such minute detail that I found myself often jumping over large sections until the story picked up again. In the section where she describes the books she read and enjoyed at the time, I was taken back in time to the books I loved so well. Unfortunately, this section began to feel like a book report. Why spend so many pages describing each of the scenes in The Little House on the Prarie that made her wish that was her family? One example would have been so much more effective.

I really wanted to like this butt, but in the end I couldn’t even finish it. I set it aside with only 7 or 8 pages to go. I just didn’t care to continue to read every painful detail of her reunion with her mother. Yes, this should have been a strong way to end her novel. To me, it felt like it was going no where – and very slowly at that. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner would have been more effective if it ended about a third of the way through with the stories about her grandmother from later in the book added to that portion.

Read the first third if you’re interested in what it was like to grow up in the midwest when you’re not a WASP or if you’d like to read about the Vietnamese experience in America in the 70s and 80s. Otherwise, I would pass this book by.

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To buy this book, click here.

#44 ~ The Emperor’s Children

November 7, 2007 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Literate Housewives Book Club, Worst of the Year | 2 Comments
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The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

This book makes September 11 anti-climatic. It is pretentious, is written using the most convoluted grammar I’ve ever seen, and was about unexceptional, yet self-righteous and stuck-up, characters. This is by far the worst book I’ve read this year. I would gladly read Perfect Match again without complaining just for the joy of caring about a character again.

As I wrote earlier on Literate Housewives’ Book Club, The Emperor’s Children is death by character development. Stay away from this book. Pretend that coming within 10 feet of this book will kill you.

#35 ~ Perfect Match

August 16, 2007 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Jodi Picoult, Literate Housewives Book Club, Reading | Leave a comment
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Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

Check out the LHBC site for my thoughts and opinions.

#32 ~ The Camel Bookmobile

July 16, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Disappointment, Reading | 5 Comments
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The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton

Kim’s comment about saving boring books for an even more boring plane ride pretty much sums up the first half to 2/3 of this book. If I had read it when I was detained in such a dull place I would have had the pleasant surprise of the book turning around and making me want to find out what happens to the people we met in Kenya. What struck me about this book was how different yet alike all humans are. We rebel against establishment and then run back into its comforting embrace. When we are deeply wronged, we return to the person or situation that hurt us instead of moving on. the hurt you know is more comfortable than the joy that might be found in the unknown. And, when it’s all said and done, you cannot change people. You can only change yourself.

I have read several reviews of this book on Amazon.com and other on-line bookstores. Those people who have left comments overwhelmingly loved this book. I’m open to the idea that I might not have been in the right place to appreciate it. I’ve gotten a little weary of reading at this point and haven’t yet gotten my second wind. It’s a great possibility. That being said, I can’t agree with those who would like to see this book added to high school reading lists. On the outside, you have a woman who leaves the comfort of her homeland and travels to Africa in an effort to bring books and literacy to another people. That concept is certainly promising, I have to admit that. However, there is much discussion of female genital mutilation and other sexual content that I would consider inappropriate to be required reading. Before I get flamed, I’m in no way advocating burning or banning books. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable assigning that book to an entire student population. What do you think?

#27 ~ Veronica

June 6, 2007 at 6:11 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Reading, Sexual Identity | 1 Comment
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Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

I am not sure why this book is entitled Veronica. This book isn’t really about her. It’s about how Alison, the narrator, wins and loses at modeling twice while looking down on others for their lack of style and beauty only to end up losing that for herself as the result of a car accident. Veronica is a woman she is embarrassed to be seen with by any of her traditional friends. She does not understand Veronica, a middle-aged woman who contracts AIDS from her bi-sexual partner. Although Alison never admits as much in so many words, she is “trapped” into remaining her friend when Veronica’s illness kicks in when she is at the wrong place at the right time. I believe that the gist of this story is that Veronica’s example of loving her partner despite his faults and having a brave death are examples that Alison can follow when she herself is permanently injured and discovers that she has hepatitis C. That could have all be summed up efficiently within a short story I never would have read. Alas…

Music ranging from classical opera to popular music of the WWII era and the 80’s is a major component to this story. Alison’s father, Alison, and Veronica attempt to use music to document the meaning in their life. Alison’s father is trying to reach his lost big brother. Alison is trying to find herself. Veronica is trying to explain love and her relationship with
Duncan. In actuality, they are using it to hide in a more pleasant past. A past remembered much more fondly that it deserves.

Despite the fact that this reading experience is as close as I’ve ever come with a book to the movie experience I had with The Talented Mr. Ripley (where I left the theater cussing and demanding those two hours of my life back), Gaitskill has a way with language. Her paragraphs are lyrical. I’m not sure if this is actually a compliment or not, but this is the first time the word c*nt has been used in a way that felt appropriate to me.

Unless you enjoy wallowing in the muck of a narcissist’s life while she constantly judges others and rarely takes responsibility for herself or life in general, I do not suggest you read this book. Actually, I urge you to run screaming from Veronica.

#10 ~ Son of a Witch

March 12, 2007 at 1:38 am | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Reading, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity, Wizard of Oz | 1 Comment
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Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

I cannot say that I liked this book very much. It was a let down after Wicked, that’s for sure. Nothing in this book made me care about Liir; and, so it seems, what happened to the Land of Oz after Dorothy killed the witch. Two burning questions that Liir had throughout this book were answered at the end, but they never seemed like mysteries to me. What occurred is what I believed all along. It seemed to me that Liir is the only person in this world or the other that couldn’t figure it out for himself. One question that I did have ~ what happened to Nor ~ was never answered concretely and that was the only storyline I had any real interest in. Oh well… Macguire must be saving that for the next book. If anyone ever reads it, please let me know. I can’t say that I’m interested enough to find out for myself.

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