Thoughts Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Anchor Books DOUBLEDAY 1996, 465 pages ***** 35th book of my 2013
This is just another proof of Atwood’s talent to plumb the human psyche and her masterful skill at writing a story.
Given a true crime story from a century ago, Ms. Atwood extensively researches and then creatively conjures up what might have happened. A young girl is caught with a man in an American hotel and they are both dragged back to Canada try for the murder of their employers. Did she do it? Was she the mastermind or a pawn?
Her attorney manages to commute her sentence to life in prison, narrowly escaping being hung like her ‘boyfriend’. Thirty some years later and she is released and disappears into a marriage south: one more escape into the US and this one succeeds. Her trail ends, no more records of her life exist.
This story imagines a psychiatrist visitation while still in prison. Hired by sympathetic folk to her innocence, the doctor hopes to investigate her amnesia for the guilt of the crime – she just can’t remember. Atwood does a great job slyly suggesting a split personality but never really giving her opinions of Grace nor her motivations.
“And then she began to cry, and when I asked her why she was doing that, she said it was because I was to have a happy ending, And it was just like a book; and I wondered what books she had been reading.” -p.446
Thoroughly enjoyable piece of historical fiction.
Five slices of pie.
With Up the Down Staircase: “SAUVE QUI PEUT”! p.376
Thoughts The Witch of Little Italy by Suzanne Palmieri, St. Martin’s Press / Macmillan 2013, 320 pages.
ebook. For the Bookies, my book club. I voted for this; sadly, I cannot recall which books were the contenders.
This is what has been said about The Orchardist, a book I recently enjoyed:
“Written with breathtaking precision and empathy, an astonishing debut novel. At once intimate and epic, evocative and atmospheric, filled with haunting characters both vivid and true to life, and told in a distinctive narrative voice.” – blurb on goodreads.
And this is what has been said about Alias Grace, the book I’m currently engrossed with:
A stunning novel full of sly wit, compassion and insight, boasting writing that is lyrical, assured, evocative of time and place and seductive in its power to engage us.” -Houston Chronicle
Let me just state: The With of Little Italy has NONE of that.
I first abandoned as DNF and then attempted to come back to it, skimming and finally giving up. One star. Annoying and tedious. Still, it might appeal to those who want a quick conversation-driven story involving family mysteries and magic. Plenty of drama, I guess. I just need more substance; this aint my kind of book.
Thoughts Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, Broadway Paperbacks 2009, 349 pages
First SENTENCE: “I have a meanness inside of me, real as an organ.”
What’s it ABOUT: A young woman who survived her family’s massacre almost 25 years prior decides to open up her memories and help investigate what really happened. She hasn’t wanted to think about any of it for a long, long time. But damn it – she needs the money. And the crime clubbers are offering to refill the empty coffers. She doesn’t work (can’t work, won’t work, what’s the difference) and she has spent the horde of cash she collected from the do-gooders who supplied it back when she was a sad poor cute victim survivor. She ain’t cute anymore.
“I signed my book for mouth-breathing kids who asked me jarring questions, like did my mom cook pies.”
Characters are lacking in much one might find admirable and yet we do somehow sympathize. Pacing is spot on, tension is physical, belief is suspended and disregarded. It’s dark inside these pages but don’t turn on the light cuz some scary too-many-legged thing might crawl out and I don’t want to see that.
Another wild ride in the Flynn mind amusement park. Not quite as wild as Gone Girl but still a thrill.
Rating: Four slices of pie, blackberry.
Stephen King is in the opening credits page of praise:
” Gillian Flynn is the real deal, a sharp, acerbic, and compelling storyteller with knack for the macabre.”
Thoughts The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro, Algonquin Books 2012, 368 pages, eBook, for book club.
I knew I should have written this review right after I read it! It’s now been two and a half weeks and I’ve forgotten a lot. And that is despite my friend on vacation reading it and asking me if it was worth it! I just told her to keep reading. I think she may have decided it wasn’t worth it…
If you like art and you like mysteries and even a bit of historical fiction, you might like this book. It has a touch of romance which was only half believable. It has a lot of Boston which was fun since I live near Boston.
I am a big fan of Impressionism, a fan of Degas and his ballet girls and a huge fan of John Singer Sargent. WAIT! that was in the other book I read, The Forgotten Garden. Sorry, coinky-dink theme connections, sort of.
So, this book is about Claire who is hired to copy a painting. Not just any painting but a Degas painting worth many millions that was stolen in the crime of the century. So the risks are high. A bit of a con game, a mystery, a who-done it, and a good girl trying to prove her innocence by outing a whole ‘nuther crime.
Especially odd or interesting – I couldn’t decide – were the imagined personal letters of Isabella Stewart Gardner, the eccentric art collector who originally owned the painting eventually stolen in the 1990s that our girl Claire was copying/forgering and thus a key element of the mystery. I have been to the museum twice since moving to Massachusetts and if I got anything at all out of this book, it is the desire to visit again very soon.
Thoughts Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier, Avon Books Imprint of HarperCollins 1999 (orig 1936), 302 pages
For RIP IV.
A young woman named Mary must go to her Aunt’s in Cornwall per her mother’s dying wish. She finds an unsavory inn/tavern with despicable clientele in a desolate location. The locals fear the place, her Auntie has gone loony and her new Uncle is a brute. Mary suspects foul play; actually she is warned of it and to keep her nose out of it.
Will she survive the unholy shenanigans?! Will she find love on the lonesome wild moors?
Well, yes. She does. That’s not really a spoiler, is it? Mary is a tough cookie despite, alas, her being only a girl.
It was a bit tedious the first 200 pages but it picks up and flies when the danger and treachery and suspense of how it all will turn out finally comes to a head.
RATING: Three slices of pie. Not my favorite DDuM but I count her as a favorite author still.
And no matter how bad the movie might be, I really want to see it! Have you?
Being of sound mind, solemn and sensible, I hereby declare my inability to decide how best to proceed. Shall I #1) point you to Sheila’s review or just #2) steal from it and post here; but I also want to #3) send you directly to Softdrink’s hilarious and succinct and very short post on this novel.
Thus, in reverse order of how I presented my dilemma,
select choices #1 & #2) click over or read this, lifted directly from Sheila’s Book Journey blogif you must know what it is about. I think she did a great job of saying what happens and yet leaves out all the fun shocking hilarity of it. She also has a page to discuss all the spoilers if you want to talk more about his novel after you read it.
Nick and Amy’s marriage started out just as you would hope, two people deeply in love. Nick was handsome and carefree, Amy was beautiful and the “Amy” behind her parents ‘Amazing Amy’ book series which left Amy with quite a little nest egg… but things are not always as they seem….
As years go by, things change for the happy couple. Amy gives the majority of her money back to her parents when they hit financial difficulties, then both she and Nick lose their jobs in New York. Nick’s mom is sick and his dad has Alzheimer’s so the couple moves back to Missouri to be close to his parents and start over. Amy uses the last large chunk of her inheritance to help Nick and his twin sister Margo purchase a bar.
Now, on their five-year anniversary a very different couple has emerged from where Nick and Amy started. They can not seem to connect any more and that morning Nick leaves for his bar, only to receive a call shortly after from a neighbor saying something seems wrong at Nick’s home, the door is wide open, the cat who is never allowed outside is on the front step. Nick comes home to find the living room torn apart, the iron left on, and Amy missing.
As a closer look is taken, and with the help of the clues that Amy left for Nick as she does every year to find his anniversary present, Nick soon becomes the prime suspect. Having his own secrets, Nick works with his sister trying to get to the bottom of what happened to Amy. but things are not always as they seem….
As the story unfolds…. there is more than meets the eye and a very twisted tale unfolds which really shows that you never know what goes on behind white picket fences and closed doors.
-Borrowed directly from Sheila with her permission.
(This photo is of a poster hung from the Chicago Cultural Center and it reminded me of something Nick says in the book about wanting to be ordinary.)
Or option #4) ignore the above and just get the book. Have fun!
I give it 5 slices of pie. I enjoyed the heck out of it.
“Do you reckon Tom Sawyer would ever go by this thing? Not for pie, he wouldn’t.”
– Chap 12, page 2, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I was often confused by Borlu’s motivations. He claimed it would be so much more awesome if Breach would take the case so he wouldn’t have to do it. But he was also taking notes that he knew he wouldn’t be able to tell Breach because then he would show he ‘breached’! Not only did he take these notes – which he was aware were illegal – he acted on them! So did he really not want Breach to take the case? Just curiosity or can’t-help-solving-crime ___ persuasion___ personality?
And just what was his special relationship with whats-her-face? How did they meet? Why was she willing to work for him so far out of her jurisdiction and allowance? I never felt these questions were addressed. And that I, as a reader, shouldn’t have cared.
By the end of the book and all the loose ends were tired neatly together, I still felt that the emotions weren’t justified. Why was our victim so gosh darn ANGRY. We were told she was angry, she certainly demonstrated her anger and hot-headedness but I didn’t get what made her so damn touchy about it all. Because she was so passionate that she had found some secret and then went it blew up to be nothing, she felt duped? I suppose. She spent years doing research that was going to make her famous all for naught?
So, yes, the book said she was angry but I never got into the victim’s head to see where she was coming from. Not that we were given much from her side of the story. I kept expecting her notes in all the books she researched to show some AHA! but maybe the puzzle pieces were too obscure for me?
I did guess that Breach was made up of people who breached. Not too many pages ahead of that reveal but I did figure it out so I was most proud of myself. Of course, Borlu was going to end up working Breach = anticlimax.
But I was sad for the victim’s poor parents. Although tha,t too – their intense distrust of their ‘hosts’. Obviously their daughter was a chip off the old block and much more clever.
And I did give a cheer when Borlu shot the sniper. Oh yea, not supposed to see him and then look right at him. Aim. Fire.
Yea, “Breach”… the noun AND the verb; both very odd. Over all, I didn’t not buy the seeing and unseeing or nonseeing concept. Very creative.
I honestly didn’t realize it was a crime mystery story when I started it. (I try not to read the blurbs, oops.) But the setting was cool. Took awhile to get my head around it but I think I finally did. People have talked about it being repetitive and yet it might have been necessary so the reader feels almost trapped, too, in a seeing – NOTseeing confusion.
I just didn’t get Borlu. I wasn’t really rooting for him. Just ambivalent. I probably missed the clues but was only mildly buying into it and kept reading just to find out how it all ended.
I like the book cover.
Can a movie be made of this? I would go see it.
OK, you want to know about the Pie and the Pi. Today is Pi Approximation Day! July 22. I always try to make a pie on all the majoy pie and pi holidays. Here it is!
WHAT’s it ABOUT: I’m going to quote the goodreads.com blurb which happens to be the blurb on the back cover:
When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.
And I reference this because I think it is accurate. (and better than what I could come up with.) I didn’t read this blurb before I started it and I’m not sure I read it even when I purchased the book back in April of this year. I wish I had. But I prefer to go in blind and so that is what I do.
(I am also of the opinion that the “A Conversation with China Miéville” doesn’t spoil it either if you happen to be the sort to read everything about a book before you begin a book. Even when the intro to this “A Conversation” is a READER BEWARE! I read it after and couldn’t find a thing in it that would spoil the experience.)
But perhaps it is because I was confused and mildly apathetic about the setting throughout this read. There. I said it. I am giving this three stars on its merit of its being extremely creative, on the vocabulary lesson I received, and the high praise it has and continues to receive from other readers that I respect.
I do not give it the fourth star because it lacked the necessary tension I want to feel when there is DANGER! and HIGH-RISK-of-BODILY-HARM! or something scary that might befall my beloved characters. The characters didn’t share enough of themselves for me to belove them. (That doesn’t quite sound right but it works for me, so I’m keeping it.) And I don’t give it the fifth star because I only liked it at the end and thus, the three star meaning “I liked it” is perfect.
I wish I had liked it more. I wanted to like this one more. Thus, I won’t give up on this author. I am looking forward to giving him more of my time. I have been told Embassytown might be a good second read but I also was invested in the Kraken excerpt that was included in this edition and so might be tempted to that one. Besides, I love the Kraken Black Spiced Rum commercials – which might have spoiled it for me because I didn’t know that the Kraken was a giant octopus..
Back to The City and the City. This is supposed to be a readalong with two parts but I kept reading! there was no way I could drag this one out. I had to get ‘er done. But hey! This post is long enough – I’ll wait to explore further in a later post when we catch up with everyone else. Next post will be July 22 which happens to be Pi Approximation Day. This is the perfect day to attempt to make a pie if you want to and never have. Because you can always say it is “APPROXIMATELY a pie”.
WORDS mendacious – not telling the truth; lying machicolation – an opening between the corbels of a projecting parapet encomia – glowing and warmly enthusiastic praise nous – p.77 “Have the nous to understand” – common sense amphora – ancient Greek jar with large oval body, narrow neck and two handles polysemic – multiple meanings ‘laddered stockings’ – (Thanks RUTHIELLA!) – what the Brits call a run in a stocking. spiv – (British) a man who lives by his wits without regular employment –or– a slacker caryatid – a draped female figure supporting an entablature boscage – a growth of trees or shrubs astrolabe – a compact instrument used to observe and calculate the position of celestial bodies before the invention of the sextant enervate – lacking physical, mental or moral vigor idiolect – the language or speech pattern of one individual at a particular period of life orrery – an apparatus showing the relative positions and motions of bodies in the solar system by balls moved by a clockwork lingam – a stylized phallic symbol that is worshipped in Hinduism as a sign of generative power contumely – harsh language arising from haughtiness
I guess I wanted the book in case I got thoughtful. These transition can be tough, and people find themselves asking difficult questions. I was tired enough to be vulnerable and I didn’t want to have to face the kind of question that might arise: Can a thirty-five-year-old, divorced vegetarian feminist psychiatrist with two lovers and an Angora cat find happiness and fulfillment? Better to read a not too demanding book, get through the flight and leave that sort of doubt to a time when the energy level is higher.
FIRST SENTENCE: What is normal?
WHAT’s it ABOUT: A psychiatrist returning from a conference decides to pickup a paperback in the airport bookstore so that no one will bother her on her flight home. However, she reads about an office being broken into and the description is exactly like her home office; to the artwork on the wall, the unique items on her desk and her baby blue file cabinets.
She becomes a bit unglued. And starts her own investigation.
WHAT’s GOOD: The first chapter is brilliant in the setup, the intrigue, the feeling of being extremely unsettled and violated. Our protagonist, Sarah Chayse, is feisty and independent. The characters were interesting and the dialog believable. For a book set in 1975 it is both amazing in how relevant many cultural mentions still are and also sad that we haven’t come further in terms of racial and gender equality.
WHAT’s not so GOOD: The book loses some steam after the fabulous first chapter and slows down during the chase to figure out who and why. It becomes so obvious when our girl is going to get into some serious trouble that there is never quite that big surprise moment. The worse of it, however, is when the author drops the name Friedrich Nietzsche into way too many discussions and unfortunately, I do not have a concept of his philosophy. This proved distracting and frustrating. I even went to Wikipedia hoping to get one nugget that would help me get over these speedbumps but knowing his ‘God is dead’ quote only confused me.
p. 68: “Is there anything else that might be helpful to me?” I asked. “Not for my conclusions, but for my decision really as to whether to drop it. Anything you think I ought to know that fits, or that surprises by not fitting?”
“He talked,” Herndon said, “a lot about Nietzsche.”
p.100: Modesty and gentleness are worth all of Nietzsche.
FINAL THOUGHTS: However, I did enjoy it well enough and was especially keen on the Boston setting. I had purchased this book on a day a friend and I went into town to do the May Beacon Hill Garden Tour. The character traveled many of the streets I had just walked on and that was really fun for me.
RATING: Three slices of pie. With extra whipped cream.
rarebit – p.140 – “I went off to fix myself a rarebit.” First attempt to look up this word, I found out it is a Welsh rabbit. HUH? She is a vegetarian! So I explored further and found it is a dish of melted and seasoned cheese on toast, sometimes with other ingredients.
Who hasn’t read a book on a plane to avoid conversation?
Thoughts Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, HARPER An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 2011, 358 pages
Loaned to me from a friend within my book club.
What’s it about: Christy wakes up every day not knowing who she is or where she is. She thinks she is a twenty-something novelist and wakes up middle-aged. She has to relearn who she is and who her husband is. And then every night, she forgets it all again when she goes to sleep. Every morning someone calls her to tell her where her diary is and she wonders who she should trust; should she even trust herself?
Who IS she?! What HAPPENED to her?!
Rating: Two Stars.
I am not a big fan of this – it was OK. Just OK. I can’t say it was horrid, only that I really didn’t get all that excited about it and only finished it because I wanted to see how it turned out.
What I AM excited for: Nicole Kidman has signed up to do the movie. (I can’t seem to find the link confirming this, so maybe it is all rumor? I didn’t try that hard.) I think this might be one of those ‘the movie is better than the book’ – IF (big if!) the director gets the pacing and suspense just right.
Of course, if I woke up seeing my reflection as Nicole Kidman when I looked in the mirror, not sure I would complain that much…