Saturday, April 23, 2011

Swimming by Nicola Keegan

I picked this up from the "Best Bets" shelf at my library.  I chose it based on the cover (see image right), and this description on the back, "Keegan's energy jumps off the page....Swimming is a wonderful coming-of-age story, a richly detailed account of a young woman channeling her rage, grief and insecurity into a passion to win.  The voice Keegan has invented for Pip is sarcastic, thoughtful, elegant, irreverent."  Plus, Judy Blume said, "I loved Swimming.  It's the most original novel I've read all year.  I can't get Pip's voice out of my mind.  Give yourself a treat this summer--read this book."  Seems like a book that I would like, right?  And while I didn't hate it, I wouldn't really recommend it.  There are so many better books.

I haven't ever read a book written in exactly this style.  It's first person, kind of stream of consciousness and all in Philomena's head.  The dialogue is only differentiated with italics, and chronology, ages, even settings, are often vague.  Sometimes she is telling you an old memory and then switches to what's happening now without any transition.  I thought it was interesting, and for me it worked sometimes, but other times it didn't.

Philomena is an interesting character.  You like her, then she and her friends are so mean and vulgar that you don't, then you feel bad for her and her falling apart family, then you feel proud, then annoyed.  I'm just not sure if over all I like her.  And even though you are in her head the whole time, it still feels detached. 

The story is really sad.  Her sister dies of cancer, a little later her dad dies in a plane crash, her mom stops leaving the house, her dog dies, and another sister ODs.  It has some good moments (like 11 Olympic gold medals!!) and some family reconciliations.  I enjoyed all the swimming stuff and also some insights the characters make.  I also liked how she uses "nervous breakdown" instead of "anxiety attack"  because, that's what they were called in the 80's.

Here are some quotes I thought were worth sharing:

"I feel the immense power of the dead, as if someone's flipped a switch and now I can see what's been making the shadows."

"If you move an atom, somewhere else an atom stops and starts twisting in the opposite direction.  Something like that has happened; things are exactly the same but twisting.  This is the opposite of joy."

"I only appreciate drama when it happens to fake people.  Roxanne doesn't like drama unless she's creating it.  Dot accepts drama as the weight she has to carry as naturally as her bones, but drama open a third eye in my mother, who now sees the drama in all things."

"So I opt for an English major with a French option.  English is better than perfect.  I sit around listening to real people talk about fake ones."

"There are two sea turtles swimming in front of her, an old one and a new one, with green froggy faces, two marble eyes, a round snout.  I feel my heart flood with love.  I am at one with everything as my breath bubbles out my tube into the hot dry air."

"Babies are...I've never thought...I stop mid sentence, filled with a dose of terror so intense my palms start to weep...What if you forget about it for a second and it rummages around in its bed until it buries itself in a blanket?  What if you leave it on the bed and it rolls on to a knife?"

So, I enjoyed parts of this book.  I'm interested to see what Nicola Keegan will do next.  I think she's a pretty good writer.  But I think there are enough other, better books for you to read.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag By Alan Bradley

Griff brought this purple beauty home from the library.  It's the next Flavia de Luce Mystery, and it didn't disappoint me.  If you liked The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I think you'll like this.  She's still 10 going on 11, her family is the same and she solves another murder.  I thought it was another fun read, but the crime is a bit more tragic this time around.  Also, one of the things I liked about the first book was discovering Flavia's spunk and charm, but this time I already knew and loved her so that spark wasn't there. Even so, I loved reading her next adventure and I'm looking forward to A Red Herring Without Mustard.

Here are some quotes to further devote you to Flavia:

"Very well, then, I thought.  Actually, I thought more than that, but since I'm trying to be a better person..."

"You are unreliable, Flavia." he said. "Utterly unreliable."
Of course I was!  It was one of the things I loved most about myself!"

"At this, a great laugh went up from the children in the audience, and I have to admit I chuckled a little myself.  I'm at that age where I watch such things with two minds, one that cackles at these capers and another that never gets much beyond a rather jaded and self-conscious smile, like the Mona Lisa."

"All was in readiness.  The house lights had already been lowered to a level of delicious expectation.  Incidental music floated from backstage, and from time to time, the red velvet curtains on the puppet stage gave an enticing twitch."  I think this shows the perfect amount of description and adjectives.

If you were worried that the next book wouldn't be as good as first, you might be right.  But it's not far behind.  I recommend picking it up.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

It's been a couple weeks and a fabulous vacation since I finished this book, so I've kind of struggled to focus my thoughts into a review. 

I liked Cutting for Stone, I got into the characters and their lives, and couldn't put it down.  But it is long, it is sad and it includes a lot of details that can be hard to read.  The book centers around doctors working in a charity hospital in Ethiopia.  There are a lot of surgical procedures, medical conditions and social interactions described in great detail.  To me it didn't seem too graphic, it seemed more National Geographic, but I didn't take the time to really visualize the gory details.  If you are looking to commit to a good, long story, I think you should try this book.

Now that I've got my warnings out of the way, it's important to say that the real story is more about family, loyalty and decisions the characters make.  Marion and Shiva are twins whose mother dies during their birth.  They are then raised by another man and woman at the hospital.  This all unfolds so sweetly, that I hate too summarize to much.  I really like the way Verghese writes and introduces his characters.  He also has a cool way of dropping hints, not quite foreshadowing, that I loved.

"But now, when her newborns, her Shiva and Marion, cried, it was like no other earthly sound.  It summoned her from sleep's catacombs and brought shushing noises to her throat as she rushed to the incubator.  It was a personal call--her babies wanted her! 
She remembered a phenomenon she'd experienced for years when she was about to fall asleep: a sense that someone was calling her name.  Now she told herself it had been her unborn twins telling her they were coming."

Isn't that pretty?  I think maybe Verghese could be edited down a bit.  But I feel that way about a lot of LONG novels.  He gives a lot of background to each of his characters, and some people might find it tedious. 

There's a part where Ghosh is teaching Marion about what to listen for when checking a patient's pulse.  As Marion begins to understand he reflects, "How exciting to be able to touch a human being with one's fingertips and know all these things about them.  I said as much to Ghosh, and from his expression you would think I'd said something profound."  The philosophies that each of the doctors adopt and explain through out the book are fascinating to me.

I really liked Marion, he chose to be a moral person when he was young.  Then there were moments when others assume he has done something his brother did, and he doesn't set them straight.  I wanted to scream at him to clear his name and explain what was really going on.  But of course he doesn't.  That drove me crazy, but also drove the plot for good and bad.  I felt like the main characters were really noble, and I thought about them when I wasn't reading.

In the prologue, it says "Life, too, is like that.  You live it forward, but understand it backward."  I liked thinking about that too.

Here's another part I liked, "When Ghosh emerged from the house, running as fast as he could, and when he grabbed me, fear and concern in his eyes, the last of my illusions vanished.  The adults weren't in charge."  I can remember that feeling when you are young and you realize that your parents can't control everything.

On a lighter note, he describes his parents bridge nights.  "A burst of conversation like a collective sigh signaled the end of a round. I loved to observe them play."   I remember hearing the exact same thing during my parents' Nertz parties!

And I LOVED this,  "I spent as much time as I could with Ghosh.  I wanted every bit of wisdom he could import to me.  All sons should write down every word of what their fathers have to say to them.  I tried.  Why did it take an illness for me to recognized the value of time with him?  It seems we humans never learn.  And so we relearn the lessons every generation and then want to write epistles."

And this, "He sat self-consciously on the edge of the bed.  He touched my hand.  His lips parted.
'Wait,' I said.  'Don't say anything yet.'  I looked out of the window at the clouds, at distant smokestacks.  The world was intact now, but I knew once he spoke it wouldn't be so.'"  This reminds me of a quote from Spanglish.  Something like, "can you repeat that because I couldn't hear anything after the crack in the planet."  Both referring to horrible life-changing moments when you know having heard something, nothing will ever be the same.  But I think it's beautifully written here.

I liked Verghese's writing style.  I can't read book after book that is this detailed and involved, but every now and then I like a really meaty novel.  I thought there were some really good character traits illustrated, and I loved the way that the doctors at the hospital functioned as a family.  Even when the events were heartbreaking, I loved reading how they handled them.  I also felt there were really profound statements thought and spoken through the characters. 

This is definitely a thought-provoking discussion-worthy book.  Tell me what you thought about it!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Title List

For awhile I've been trying to figure out how to use the "search this blog" feature at the top of my page.  It only seems to bring up results for the past few months, instead of my whole blog.  Super annoying.  So, while in DC, Colby gave me an idea of how to make EVERY book I've reviewed easily available from my front page.

Now I have an "All the Books I've Reviewed" list on my sidebar.

I hope it's helpful.  Sorry I left the "The"s in the titles.  I might change that.

I've been on vacation, but I promise to get a new review up next week!

Happy reading!