Thursday, November 22, 2012

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout

I'm not sure what originally attracted me to this book.  It could be that I wanted to read a Pulitzer Prize winning book.  I'm not sure I've ever read one before.  But the synopsis on the back was interesting and so I added it to my collection of unread books waiting to be read and, as usual, promptly forgot about it for a while.

I pulled it out while trying to slog my way through a book that I ended up not finishing.  I needed something to keep me going and this was handy.  In the end, I'm glad I stumbled back across it as I enjoyed it very much.

Olive Kitteridge, of the title, is occasionally the center of the book, but the book is not just about her story or any others.  Instead, Olive Kitteridge is a book of barely connected short stories.  The connection is the town where the people all live, Crosby, Maine.  Some of the stories involve Olive or her immediate family but many of them she has simply a walk-on role with no lines.  For example, she may simply be another customer in the restaurant where the story is taking place that chapter.

Each chapter introduces new characters. Like an onion, Ms. Strout begins to peel away the outer layers to reveal the raw flesh beneath.  In a just a few pages we learn secrets, insecurities, dreams or fears of our new friends and quickly begin to care about them whether with compassion or disdain.  By the end of each chapter I felt I might know what the future held, but usually had to complete the picture myself.  Isn't this like the real world?  Each meeting with a friend ends with a parting and uncertainty of what may come next.  Although each chapter may have left me with a question, like the rise of a voice at the end of the sentence, I didn't feel dissatisfied with the story.

Olive, her husband, Henry, and her son, Christopher are the only characters to reappear in more than one story.  We get unique perspectives from each of them of their family dynamic and how it unfolds over the years.  Olive Kitteridge herself was not outwardly a very sympathetic character, and yet I came to be quite fond of her.

I give Olive Kitteridge 4 shots of 5. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Love Anthony

Love Anthony
by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova is a fiction writer who has the educational background to write about the subjects she chooses. And of course she researches her topics extensively, too.  Her first book about Alzheimer's and her second book about brain injury both related closely and personally to my life and helped me feel more compassion and understanding.  Love Anthony is about autism and I don't have any experiences relating to it, but I trusted this author to pull me into a story involving autism and finish once again with more compassion and understanding.  She didn't disappoint.

In this case, the story was less about the condition and more about the effect of it on the world outside it, parents, family, friends and strangers.

The story starts without revealing a whole lot about autism.  In fact I wondered as I turned page after page if it was really going to invest much in the subject at all.  I was following the lives of two different women wondering where the story was going to interconnect.  Ms. Genova is a good story teller and I was involved in the book, so please don't think I was disappointed.  Eventually, one of the women starts to write a story from the perspective of a young boy with autism.  It was fascinating as she described his life from his view.  He was indeed a happy child who, in his own way, was much more involved in the world around him than it appears from the outside.

There is so much more to this book than I am going to even touch on.  Not just the effect of autism on a family but other stories of relationships and struggles, boiled down to the four most important things, to feel wanted, loved, safe and secure (I think that was the last thing..?) I really appreciate Ms. Genova's attempt to bring understanding for what it is like in Anthony's world.  And lest you think she assumes she got it perfect for all children with autism, I will paraphrase a quote from the book:

Once you've met a child with autism, you've met just one child with autism.

The spectrum of this condition is long and varies greatly from person to person. 

Five shots of five for one of my favorite authors.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton

I've forgotten more of the story than I remember but with the help of other people's reviews can put some of it together.  A young woman is bequeathed a cottage by her grandmother that she never knew existed.  She goes off to England, curious about the cottage, and what she can learn about her grandmother's ownership of it. 

The story unfolds told by women of three generations, eventually solving the mystery of the cottage and the ancestory of the women.

Okay, I realize this review is pretty lame, but I enjoyed the book.  Four of five shots. 

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot
by Liane Moriarty

Alice fell off her bike during a spinning class and lost 10 years of her life.  Her memory of the last ten years, that is.  Suddenly she was not only ten years older, she didn't recognize her children, her husband didn't live with her any longer and everything had changed.  She tries to get by without letting on that she doesn't recognize her own life much less the people around her.. 

I love this story.  Imagine being transported ten years into the future and trying to understand why your once perfect life was no longer the fairy tale you've been living.  No explanation seems plausible, do you try to 'fix' it or just go with it?  You still feel passionately about a man who treats you as cool as a stranger and it's incomprehensible that these grown children could possibly belong to you.

It's one of those books that causes me to think about my own life and ask those "what ifs."  I give What Alice Forgot five of five shots. 


The Snow Child

The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey

This is the story of a lonely older couple who "adopt" a feral child. But is the child real or imaginary? Even as the reader, one isn't sure of the existence of the snow child. She exists where a normal man would have frozen or starved to death.  She disappears when the snow does and returns each fall with the first flakes.  But whether she is real or imaginary, she brings joy and pleasure to the lonely couple who rekindle their own relationship as a result of their new family dynamic.

A simple yet complex story, very different from most I've read. Four of five shots.  

Married in Seattle

Married in Seattle
by Debbie Macomber

This book was two novellas in one book. Generally I enjoy Ms. Macomber's stories, which I why I picked this book up.  I was in Seattle for a family emergency and really wanted something light and fluffy to read, but this book ended up annoying me more than entertaining and distracting me. 

To be fair, I should say the first story in the book as I didn't even attempt to read the second story.  I found the story just a little too "Harlequin Romance."  The lead female character was overly sensitive to every comment or action by the lead male character. It wasn't long before I was screaming at her inside my head to open her eyes and see what was obvious.

I hope the reason the story was so shallow is because it was written to be a quick read in a book of novellas, and doesn't reflect on Ms. Macomber's future works.  This was simply far too contrived.

Then Came You

Then Came You
by Jennifer Weiner

One of the reasons I write a book blog is because I have a very bad memory.  God's honest truth.  I am one of those people who could probably read the same book over and over again and still be surprised by the ending... same with movies.  Sadly, this comes back to haunt me when I fall so far behind in my blogging and can't really remember a book well enough to review it.  Insert heavy sigh here. 

Jennifer Weiner is an author that I really enjoy.  I can't recall much detail of this story, even after revisiting the synopsis at the Barnes & Noble website.  I won't try to bluff my way through a review.  I think the next few posts will simply be me trying to update my record of the books I've read without much commentary. 

But I'll save you searching for the synopsis.  From Barnes & Noble:

Jules Strauss is a Princeton senior on a full scholarship who plans on selling her “pedigree” eggs to help save her father from addiction.
Annie Barrow, a struggling Pennsylvania housewife, thinks that carrying another woman’s child will help her recover a sense of purpose and will bring in some much-needed cash.
India Bishop, thirty-eight (really, forty-three) and recently married to the wealthy Marcus Croft, yearns for a baby for reasons that have more to do with money than with love. When her attempts at pregnancy fail, she turns to Jules and Annie to make her dreams come true.
But each of their plans is thrown into disarray when Bettina, Marcus’s privileged daughter, becomes suspicious that her new stepmother is not what she seems . . .
Told with Jennifer Weiner’s trademark wit and sharp observations, Then Came You is a hilarious, tender, and timely tale that explores themes of class and entitlement, surrogacy and charity, the rights of a parent and the measure of a mother.