Thursday, March 31, 2016

Recent reads

With preparations for our family Easter gathering, sewing projects, and a bit of outside work, I have
gotten behind on blogging about recent reads.  So I've decided to do abbreviated reviews of several books in one posting.  None of these are reviews required by publishers for receiving a book; all are library books, so my main reason for reviewing these books is to have a personal record of what I've read.  That someone else might stop by and read the reviews is just extra sweet.

First, I read RISEN by Angela Hunt; this is a novelization of the movie RISEN which came out late this winter.  We had planned to see the movie, but found it quickly left movie theaters around here, much to my husband's disappointment.  Our plans to see it right before Holy Week fell through when no theater was still showing it, and now we have to wait for the dvd release.  A novelization of a movie means the book was written in conjunction with the writing of the screenplay or after it.  From comments made by Angela Hunt at the end of the book, it appears the book and the movie are quite different.  Hunt has included characters, including a principal character named Rachel, who are not in the movie.  I enjoyed her version of a widowed Jewish woman and the Roman officer charged with finding Jesus's body after the resurrection.  I wonder if the movie version will have as much introspection and thought as this novelization, or will it be sweeping action, focusing instead on the violence of Jerusalem.  Even Hunt made it part of the Roman's character that he was tired, so tired of all the killing that had surrounded his life.
Risen, paperback

Next, I read ONE PLUS ONE by Jojo Moyes, a popular British contemporary author.  This is our bookclub selection for March and we will be discussing it tonight.  Jess, a single mother, has been struggling to survive ever since her husband abandoned the family two years earlier.  Juggling a cleaning service with a friend with her night job at a pub, Jess fears she never has enough time for her children -- a teenage stepson and a elementary age daughter, and worse, she fears that she cannot protect them from the bullies of their public housing neighborhood.  An opportunity to send her daughter to a  top-rated private school for math wizards hinges on getting her daughter to a math contest in Scotland.  Only problem, Jess cannot afford the train fares and does not own a car.  When she "nicks" her ex's rusty limo and attempts the journey, she barely makes it out of town before attracting the bobbies.  To her rescue comes a stranger, or sort of a stranger.  Ed owns one of the many vacation condos that Jess cleans weekly.  Unlike most customers, he has actually met Jess, just a few nights previously when the inebriated Ed treats her obnoxiously at the pub and Jess must arrange a ride home for him.  Readers will find that Ed's life is as mixed up and miserable as Jess's.  A misfit all his youth, Ed finally found acceptance when he and a friend built a tech empire.  Then Ed's wife leaves him, and in a moment of weakness he hooks up with a former classmate, one of dozens who ignored him years before.  Soon he found himself accused of insider trading and is released from the firm that he helped create.  ONE PLUS ONE is the story of a rocky, sometimes hilarious and sometimes painful journey.  First, there is the slow journey of Jess, her stepson, daughter, and the family dog with Ed to the math contest (Daughter Tanzie gets carsick if they drive too fast).  Second, is the deeper journey each character makes to find acceptance and happiness.
I can't wait to discuss this tonight.

One Plus One

At under 150 pages, Elizabeth Strout's book MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON is the shortest read I've had this year, but it may be the book that stays with me the longest.  Strout won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago for OLIVE KITTERIDGE, a loosely connected series of stories which piece together a picture of retired school teacher Olive Kitteridge's New England life.  When our book club read this title we had so much to discuss including Olive's strained relationship with her adult son, her long marriage which alternated between cold and cherished.  What stood out was how much story there was, when really Strout had written so little.  In MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, Strout has written even fewer words and the result is hauntingly powerful.  Lucy Barton narrates the book in tiny segments, some only half a page.  Herself a published author, Lucy is mainly reflecting back on a time in the 1980s when she was hospitalized for 9 weeks.  Her husband, who always had a hospital phobia, arranges for Lucy's mother to fly from rural Illinois to New York City to be with her daughter.  This amazes Lucy.  First, because her mother has never traveled anywhere, and second, because she has been alienated from her parents ever since marrying her husband, the child of a German war prisoner.
As Lucy looks back on her mother's five day hospital visit, she sees it as both a time that the two repaired old wounds and as a time that they failed to say what needed to be said. That so much came from  a series of seemingly mindless conversations about some old neighbors shows Strout's ability to capture human nature.  I read this book quickly yesterday, starting it late afternoon and finishing it in the evening.  Despite the speed that I read, this was not a light read.  Lucy's story reminds us of the crippling harm of poverty, especially the poverty that marks one's family as different.  There are veiled and not so veiled allusions to physical and emotional abuse, but what seems even more painful is that her mother and father, the perpetrators, themselves suffered greatly.  He obviously was traumatized by the war; the mother's source of pain, not so clear.  While I've read many books which featured traumatizing childhoods being left behind, I don't think I've ever experienced one that so realistically showed how what seems to be put behind us, still follows, Does it make us stronger?  Perhaps.  Does it define us? Perhaps.  Does it haunt us in ways we do not acknowledge -- most certainly.

After finishing the book last night, I had such mixed emotions that I turned to online reviews to see what others thought of the book.  I thought perhaps I had missed something, but what I found was mostly an agreement with my reaction.  Some people praised the book and it's ability to tell so much while really telling so little.  Some people dismissed the book as a let down and a waste of money.  I perceive that this title will soon be taught in literature classes right along with Olive Kitteridge.

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