Monday, 26 December 2011

End Of The Year Reads

Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky
I compare Delinsky's novels in my mind to Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks and Jodie Picoult.  They appeal to a specific type of reader, one that enjoys a little bit of light entertainment, a gentle story.  To be honest, I shouldn't even have this book on my list as I couldn't force myself to finish it.

It starts out promisingly enough:  a single mother who had a baby at a young age discovers her seventeen year old daughter is pregnant, and even worse, two of her daughter's friends are pregnant as well.  They appear to have made pact to bring up their babies together as young single mothers and the entire novel deals with the impact it has on the main character, the older single mother who has tried to raise her daughter to choose a different life style.
Why couldn't I finish it?  Frankly, the book was boring and dry.  The dialogue between the characters was predictable and unexciting, the descriptions uninspired and generally lack lustre...for such a well known and toted author, I expected more.  I expect that will be the first and last Delinsky book I attempt to read.  
Without meaning to be condescending or rude, and as I mentioned earlier, her books appeal to certain type of people who haven't stretched their literary limitations.  If you enjoy a fast and easy read, I would recommend this book.  In the meantime, I'd rather entertain myself with some Berenstein Bears.

The Book Of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
I have never read in depth on the trials of the Africans during the slavery years.  Of course I was exposed to some details and watched the mini-series "Roots", so I knew somewhat of how these people suffered, but this read opened my eyes far more to the pain slavery inflicted on this group of people.

"Book of Negroes" takes you on a journey through the eyes of a young woman, captured into slavery while still an adolescent.  The book explores what it was like to be a girl becoming an African-American woman when slavery was still considered socially acceptable, even expected.
I don't want to say much about this book because I think it's something that should be picked up and read, but I will say that I found it riveting.  I couldn't put it down and even though I was horrified by what the protagonist went through, it was like watching a train wreck or a house burn down:  I was unable to tear my eyes away.
I highly recommend this.  Fun fact:  the author lives in my city!  I had no idea until I read his mini-bio on the back cover.

Something For The Pain by Paul Austin
This book was an easy read.  In fact, to be honest, most of the books I read during these past few months have been very easy to quickly read, but back on track..."Something For The Pain" is a type of autobiography written by Paul Austin, a doctor who specializes in ER medicine.  The book covers the doctor's venture in ER medicine and the different cases he dealt with through his years working in the emergency department.  Perhaps the most compelling point of the novel is the changes the author experiences to himself personally while learning how to survive and cope with working evening shifts and handling difficult cases.
If you enjoy medicine related literature, I would recommend this book as a fast read.  However, do expect to be moved to tears or to read something profound.  Although the author has certainly seen many compelling situations during his work, his words and expressions are rather dry and matter of fact, attesting to his calling as a doctor not writer.

The Birth House by Ami McKay
Bored at work one day, I picked up this in the hospital convenience store for $11 and it was money well spent.  "The Birth House" is a story about a young girl named Dora Rare who apprentices with an elderly midwife.  She learns how to deliver babies and create and administer home remedies for a various assortment of ailments.  The book is rich with descriptions of herbs and medicines that were commonly used in the time era of the early 1900s.  Set in Nova Scotia, the book delves in the lives of the farmers and city folk who created homes and futures for themselves despite difficult circumstances.

Dora sees heartbreak and growth, birth and death, happiness and sorrow.  The lives that the characters live are stirring and fascinating, especially compared to the current culture we are living in.  The novel also touches on the changes the world begins to see, moving from midwives and home births to hospital deliveries in sterilized areas.  It was very thought provoking for me as I began to consider how much of our medicine has moved to being sterile and dominated by pharmaceutical companies and doctors and whether that change has been a wholly positive thing.
I can compare "The Birth House" to "Book Of Negroes" in the fact that it also details the journey for a young girl into grown woman, learning the different lessons that life has to offer and becoming wiser with age.
While "The Birth House" has a somewhat feminist sentiment, it's not nauseating or overly preachy.  If I could compare "The Birth House" to another series of novels that have a similar feel, it would be L.M. Montgomery's "Anne Of Green Gables" series. 
It was a more difficult read, in that the descriptions were sometimes lengthy and monotonous, but I would still recommend this book as a great read--not a must read, but an enjoyable book to pick up if you have some extra time. 

The Scent Of Sake by Joyce Lebra
Perusing through the bargain area of Chapters, I saw this book for $4 and grabbed it.  It was described as "...a fantastic topic and setting and such strong memorable characters!".  To that I say, phooey.  The main protagonist, a young Chinese girl named Rie, struggles to run her family's sake business in a male dominated society.  The book addresses the changes the Chinese saw within their industrial sector between the 1800s and 1900s. 
Although the concept of the book seems interesting enough, it does not deliver.   The description of China and it's society seems stiff and dull, as though the author watched a documentary on the topic or read a history book and then copied the knowledge learnt into their novel.
The biggest issue, though, that I found with this novel was the main protagonist with very unsympathetic.  There was nothing about her plight that was compelling or moving and I found the book boring and the character dialogue stilted and dry.
I would not recommend this book to anyone.  Pass it by. 

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
Jennifer Weiner has written some of my favourite books, including "Good In Bed" and "In Her Shoes".  I decided to visit the library for the first time and months and saw this book on the bestseller express shelf--meaning you have seven days to read and return before you face exorbitant late fines. 
"Then Came You" presents the reader with a group of characters and you hope you will love.   The novel weaves together four women who each face their own demons and are forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to address those issues.  The main premise of the book is a touchy subject:  fertility clinics and surrogate mothers.  The subject that Weiner attempts to write on is heavy but the book surprisingly is a fluffy and light read, which is probably my least favourite aspect of it.  Instead of allowing the reader to emotionally connect and feel what each character is so intensely experiencing, Weiner jumps from aspect to aspect, from the egg donor to the surrogate mother to the infertile wife. 
On top of that, Weiner thrusts a lesbian relationship into the book, somehow squeezing it between flashbacks of certain characters, showing what made them who they are.  Everything felt forced and too quickly introduced, as though you just begin to understand one character and suddenly you're trying to understand the next.  This, I believe, is what makes multiple character narration so tricky to execute in a novel.
All in all, I felt disappointed with the book.  I made it to the end and it was much less painful than "The Scent of Sake", but it wasn't a Jennifer Weiner book that I loved.  The premise of the novel was brilliant;  the execution was poor.  My opinion?:  borrow it from the library instead of paying for a copy. 

Fall Of Giants by Ken Follett
Ken Follett is perhaps one of my favourite authors.  I discovered him last summer with the television program created of his novel "Pillars Of The Earth", which I read in less than week while on a camping trip with friends.  From there I naturally read the sequel "World Without End" and then went back and read one of his first novels "The Eye Of The Needle" which I also found enthralling.
"Fall Of Giants" is his most recent work, the first in the "Century trilogy" and it did not disappoint!  At a whopping 1008 pages, Follett chronicles a time when the world saw the most change--beginning in the early 1900s and continuing on through WWI. 
Despite the fact that I majored in history and found the early 1900s the most compelling time to research, I have always been a bit spotty on the causes of WWI and it's ultimate resolution.  "Fall Of Giants" more than answered those questions and enlightened me with regards to the political pacts and relationships that ultimately caused WWII.  The novel sets the stage of the introduction of WWII and the struggle in Russia for freedom from the aristocratic rule and then eventually from the Communist oppression.
While Follett takes on the difficult task of multiple narratives, each character is interesting and quirky, alive on the page and I often found myself rooting for their cause.  An English feminist campaigning for the suffragettes, a German finding himself on the wrong side of the battle lines, a Russian soldier blindly supporting the cause of Communism and then discovering the truth of Stalin, an American diplomat seeking to ease the relationships between America, France and Germany...each character brings a fresh storyline and dimension to this epic novel that sweeps across continents and time.
If I had to pick my favourite novel of 2011, this would be it.  I am waiting with heightened anticipation for the next book in the trilogy and I am awed by Follett's ability to write. 
The only somewhat boring parts of the novel were the chapters that dealt with the war manoeuvres using terms and concepts I was unfamiliar with.  However, I pushed through those paragraphs and found great reward in doing so.
Definitely a must purchase, despite being a bit costly, though considering the sheer size of the novel, the price is redeemable in my eyes.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I'm sure you have heard some buzz about this novel due to it's appearance on the big screen this year.  Typically, I prefer to read the novel before seeing the movie because I find too often that movies bastardize original works, but that was not the case with this movie/book.  The movie was moving and I found myself tearing up on a several occasions, and fortunately when reading the book, I discovered that the director and screen writer kept the movie very close to the original piece of work.
"The Help" is written about a subject not many people consider:  the lives of black housekeepers/nannies during the 1960s in Mississippi.  The city and society I live in is so far removed from what those women experienced and dealt with during that time.  Today we are fortunate enough to exist where racism is greatly diminished and not considered an acceptable attitude.  Of course there are people who are still discriminated against, but generally our government and majority of people are educated to accept all people of any race and decree.  Black people are allowed to swim with white people and share the same toilets, a practice that is normal to us.
However, the time during which this novel is set shows a side of people that is embarrassing and painfully truthful.  I remember sitting in the theatre and hearing the misconceptions brutally loud on the big screen, wondering how people justified those actions and thoughts;  to say that black people spread disease through toilet seats and weren't normal blows my mind and yet it was a common practice back then. 
I don't want to say anything else about this book because I think it should be read and enjoyed in it's entirety...however, I do recommend both the movie and the book.  Make sure you pick it up.

That's all for the book reviews!  As January nears and 2012 approaches quickly, I am trying to compile a list of must reads for the new year.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.  Happy New Year!

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