Friday, March 25, 2011

Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons

Thank you Tara for the great recommendation! I liked this book and I think it's one I can univerally recommend.  It is a testament to women and reading.  The characters are great and the story is original.  It was a nice change of pace from other books I've read this year.

The story is told through Margaret's eyes as a teenager living in the South during World War II.  Her grandmother is known all around for being a midwife and healer.  Both Margaret and her mom Sophia go along with Charlie Kate on house calls and help take care of the sick.  I loved the relationship between these three smart, strong women.  They stick together, they watch out for each other, and they take care of everyone.  This book has some really sad moments, but overall you feel good reading it.

Here are some quotes (mostly wisdom from the grandmother) that I really liked.

“What is most fascinating with regard to her dentistry is that she would put women patients under, but work on the men as is.  She believed that although women, as a rule, could stand more pain and take more punishment than men, they should not have to and would not ever suffer under her care….The degree to which a woman looked tired in the face dictated the amount of chloroform she received, and sometimes when my grandmother recognized that a woman was too taxed by her life, she did her the favor of knocking her out to the point that she couldn’t neither lift her head nor say her name the rest of the day.  She said, 'Some of these women, if they didn’t have me work on their mouths, they’d never have gotten off their feet.'"
“She told me once, with great assurance, ‘I have read two books a week for thirty years. I am satisfied that I know everything.'”
“My grief had been plain and unpoetic, and the hole in my heart would’ve grown wide enough and deep enough to consume me had my mother and grandmother not kept me with them, and still.”

“In our house, the point of reading and learning was neither to impress outsiders nor to get a job or a husband, nothing like that. It had nothing to do with anybody but the three of us. When a good book was in the house, the place fairly vibrated. We trained ourselves to be exceptionally fast readers so a book could be traded around before the nagging and tugging became intolerable……We shared a curiosity about the world that couldn’t be satisfied in any other way.”

“My grandmother said, “When a marriage goes sour, two things start to happen. You can’t look at the other person chew and so you stare at your plate all through dinner, and you can’t sleep at night for harboring thoughts of how the one laying beside you spoiled something you wanted. Things go downhill fast when you can’t eat and sleep together, which are what married people are supposed to enjoy doing the most.”

Don't you love those?  I really loved these three women, and I think you'll like this book!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

I've been thinking about writing about this book for a couple days.  I contemplated not reviewing it, since I hate to have two negative-ish reviews in a row.  Last week I found this book review blog that only does positive reviews.  Which I guess I kind of understand, but I like to be warned about books and read a different opinions.  When I remember to, I like to look over Goodreads and decide if I want to read a book based on which of my friends like it and which don't.  SO I am going to tell you why I didn't like this book.  And I feel like I can be kind of mean because if you publish a book, you are asking people to judge you.  I say so at least.

I believe these essays are supposed to be funny.  Little slice of life, sort of self-deprecating, observations and experiences that she has chosen to re-tell for our entertainment.  I think Sloane Crosley has some good topics and stories to tell, but when she does, they just don't work for me.  They aren't funny.  Several of them felt like a whole different observation was tacked on in the last paragraph.  Others just didn't seem interesting enough.  Like maybe she needed to embellish what actually happened a bit more.  Some seemed to not explain enough, and others seemed to explain too many irrelevant things.

I remember trying to write this type of thing in college and I was terrible at it.  Really.  I didn't know how to not tell it exactly how it was, and I didn't know what was universal or actually appealing for others to read.  I'm mentioning that to show that I know how NOT to write these kinds of things.  Also, I read a lot more funny and interesting essays on blogs. And I have funny friends.  All of whom are way funnier than Sloane Crosley.

There's also this shock factor she seems to throw at you sometimes.  Like choosing to use the F-word when it isn't even funny, and seems forced and out of place.  Are you just trying to show us you are edgy? Dumb.
Some of her essays seemed like something I would like to read in a magazine, and might even take a mental note of her name to look up sometime.  When I was reading I kept thinking that maybe the next essay would make me laugh and I would join her fan club.  But it didn't happen.  I guess it wasn't so awful that I stopped reading, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Not at all.

I'd like to throw Sloane Crosley a bone, and admit that there were a couple essays that were OK.  They are the ones I wouldn't mind reading in the doctor's office waiting room.  There's an essay, The Height of Luxury,  about going through her mom's jewelry the night before her 16th birthday, and finding out her mom had been married before.  It was OK.  There's another about her stint as a volunteer at a butterfly exhibit. Sign Language for Infidels. The thing is that it seemed like there were all these funny things about it, but when I read it, it was not funny. I probably enjoyed Lay Like Broccoli the best, where she goes into her vegetarianism/vegan/sushi decision making.  The very last one, Fever Faker, is about when she finds out she might have a disease.  I really almost thought it was going to be funny.

I'm sad this book wasn't funny.  I think that the title is awesome.  I think the idea of it was great.  But it kind of reminded me of watching Saturday Night Live sometimes.  You know how that is, funny people, funny idea, dumb skit?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I wanted to love this book.  It is told by Cassandra who has started writing a journal in an attempt to "capture" her family and their surroundings.  I liked her use of the word, and I liked her voice.  Her age was a little confusing, because she's 17, but I kept picturing her closer to 14.  It takes place in the 1930's, and definitely feels more modern than the Victorian novels it might be compared to.

Cassandra's family has been leasing a rundown castle for years.  She still finds the charm in it, but it's wearing off for everyone else.  They are desperately poor, without a lot of options to improve their situation.  Her father has become a recluse, and has not been able to write anything after his highly acclaimed first novel.  And that's where the story begins.  Then, surprise!  Their financial troubles are at least temporarily cured by a handsome, rich love interest.  But it's not quite as bad as it sounds.

My favorite parts of this book are the funny parts. In one of the first scenes, Topaz and Rose find a bottle of green dye.  Because their clothes are all worn and old, they start dying everything!  I thought this whole part was really funny.  Also, there is a dress form in Rose and Cassandra's room, and Cassandra talks for it in a fussy older woman's voice.  Every time she started with "Miss Blossom's" voice and motherly advice, I found myself smiling.  "Well, it's a start, girlies, there's no denying that."  When they first meet Simon Cotton, he has a beard.  The girls can't get over it and all their conversations about it crack me up.  "Simon Cotton's black beard looks queerer than ever by day light.....How can a young man like to wear a beard?" and "Rose, you couldn't marry a man with a beard."  I also really liked the symbolic shift of power when his beard is shaved.  But I don't want to spoil it anymore.

 Here are a few other lines in Cassandra's voice that I liked:

"When I read a book,  I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it--or rather, it is like living it."

"That evening of the row was our lowest depths; miserable people cannot afford to dislike each other.  Cruel blows of fate call for extreme kindness in the family circle."

"I heard myself explaining to God as I always do about good, kind, useful lies."

I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading this, especially since it has been really well-received over the past 60 something years since it was published.  I enjoyed the story, but I wouldn't give it as a gift, or tell you to rush out and find a copy.  I liked it fine.

I'm guessing a lot of you have read it, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

A side note or two:  This is the cover of the paperback I got from the library.  Not until I searched for a jpeg to post did I notice the faces in the clouds, gag.  Also, the cover says, "the acclaimed novel is now the most romantic movie of the year."  That was surprising to me because I don't think the book is terribly romantic.  But researching the movie that came out in 2003 (R), I can see that they took a lot of liberties.  And apparently focused on some private nude scenes with the step-mom.  In the book, Cassandra just mentions how she "communes with nature" and it wasn't sexual.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

This is a great young adult book.  I would even say upper elementary.  Remember when I read Sammy Keyes?  I forgot too, but this is the same author.  Rob Reiner made a sweet PG movie based on this book.  And by based, I mean exactly the same.  Although he took it back a few decades to the early 60's.

Flipped is told creatively from two different narrator's point of views.  Bryce Loski, and Julianna Baker who loves him.  They are neighbors, and have lived across the street from each other since they were in second grade.  The majority of the story takes place when they are in 8th grade, with some flashbacks to earlier days.  The chapters alternate between Bryce and Juli, and are clearly marked that way.  Although I might classify this as an innocent romance, it really is more of a coming of age story.  It is short and sweet.

Bryce's grandfather comes to live with his family, and serves as a better rolemodel than his father.  He is worried about Bryce, and tells him, "One's character is set at an early age, son.  The choices you make now will affect you for the rest of your life."  I think this can be true.  Kids are really working out what kind of person they want to be when they are Bryce's age, and patterns of behavior seem hard to break down the road.

When Juli is upset, her mom tucks her in bed and, "And she made me cry all over again when she kissed me goodnight and whispered that of all her many blessings, I was her best and brightest."  I love it, and even more when you see how it affects Juli.  The next day she is working to fix up her yard and recognizes that, "Surely, I thought, a few bushes and some dilapidated wood couldn't stop someone's best and brightest blessing!"  It makes me hope my kids internalize what I tell them.

There are some tender conversations between Juli and her dad that I really liked.  Also between Bryce and his grandpa.

"I went to bed that night feeling very full and very happy.  And as I lay there in the dark, I wondered at how much emotion can go into any given day, and thought how nice it was to feel this way at the end of it."

I recommend this book.  I think it is a sweet story with good character development and a nice resolution.
I also recommend the movie.  Reading the book actually felt a little redundant to me since I already knew the story, and the movie stayed so true.  I think I'd recommend reading the book first.  Both are really good.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

I really, really liked this book.  It is a story of a relationship that takes place over 20ish years.  Emma and Dexter hook up right after college (university) graduation, then go their seperate ways.  BUT,  they stay in touch, and their lives wind in and out of each others.  They become best friends, always with that question of something else.  The unique format of the book just gives you snapshots of what is happening.  Each chapter tells you what is happening on July 15 of that year.  Sometimes it's a letter, sometimes they each get their own section, and other times the narration takes you back and forth between both characters.

During the years, Emma and Dexter both go through career ups and downs, personal tragedies and triumphs.  Their relationship is fluid and fluctuates throughout the story.  I was afraid at the beginning that it would be too sad and unfulfilling, like they would never speak their true feelings, or be on the same page.  But really the opposite is true.  While they both hold back at times when you want them to put themselves out there, there are many moments of sweet honesty and tough decisions.  I think it makes for a great story.

Both Emma and Dexter grow on you, and I think they are well developed and likable.  Even though Emma has a bit of that everyone knows she's pretty except her, and Dexter does a lot of drinking, drugging and sleeping around.  Did I mention this is definetly an adult book? Plenty of  Foul Language, Sex, Drugs.  But for me it wasn't overwhelming, and is for the most part not offensive.  But again, their British, so....there are quite a few profanities, etc.

Here are some parts I liked to give you a feel for the book:
Dexter writing a letter to Emma. "It's raining like crazy outside, harder even than in Edinburgh.  It's CHUCKING IT DOWN, Em, so loud that I can barely hear the complilation tape you made me which I like a lot incidentally except for that jangly indie stuff becaue after all I'm not some GIRL."

About Emma after reading a poem she had written in the past. "Once more she shuddered, as if peeking beneath a bandage, and snapped the notebook shut.....She had reached a turning point.  She no longer believed that a situation could be made better by writing a poem about it."

"While not sentimental, there were times when Dexter could sit quietly and watch Emma Morley laughing or telling a story and feel absolutely sure that she was the finest person he knew.  Sometimes he almost wanted to say this out loud, interrupt her and just tell her."

She suddenly felt a startling sadness, so stopped for a moment, turned and took both of Dexter's hands in her own.
'Can I say something? Before we go back to the party?'
'Go on.'
'I'm a little drunk.'
'Me too.  That's okay.'
'Just...I missed you, you know.'
'I missed you too.'
'But so, so much Dexter.  There were so many things I wanted to talk to you about, and you weren't there--'
'Same here.'
Actually just re-reading that brings up so many emotions for me!

'Sometimes it seems that she can chart her life by what she worries about at three a.m.  Once it was boys, then for too long it was money, then career, then her relationship with Ian, then her infidelity.  Now it is this.'

There is also cool insight from the narrator.  Like this whole page about weddings and the different waves.  The first being during university, then 20's, then early 30's, then the second marriages.  It is well-written, and then all the weddings in the book after that follow neatly into those categories, as if proving his theory.

The relationship between Emma and Dexter is the best part of this book.  Watching them each struggle, succeed, and really just grow up is a good read.  I just have to warn you that it is not all happy.  I shed a few tears.  And remember I warned you about the profanity and sleazing.  Mostly Dexter.

So they are making a movie about this.  I'm crossing my fingers it won't be R.  Because really, it doesn't need to be to tell the story, but it so easily could be. 

PS.  My sister,who recommended the book, is upset about the casting because this book is SO BRITISH, and an american was cast as Emma.  We'll have to see if she can pull it off!