Thursday, April 28, 2011

Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

I don't remember where i heard about this novel originally but I had put it on my Amazon wishlist and my spectacular husband got it for me for Christmas.  I finally got around to reading it (yes about five months after the fact, but I have a ton of books that I want/have to read and so little time!).

This book is easily one of the best that i have read this year. It is told through the eyes of a 14 year old girl in 17th century Persia. Interestingly, this girl remains nameless even though we are intricately involved in every aspect of her life and she really looks forward to getting engaged by the end of the year, in order to protect herself and her family from poverty. This young girl is also, perhaps most importantly, a rug maker, and even though she still has a lot to learn about the art, she is widely considered to be talented. When her father dies suddenly, she and her mother travel to live with a distant family member and his wife in their household as slaves. Even though they are treated as servants, her relative is a carpet maker that breaks with tradition, takes our protagonist under his wing and teaches her the art of rug making.  Our protagonist's luck does not last and she is sold into a a three month long marriage contract that is renewable by her husband - renewal is based upon how much she pleases him -= making the contract hedonistic and ruining her chances for a more permanent marriage. The contract is entered into in order to ensure her family's finanicial security; however, her own self worth and self respect violently conflict with that.

I really enjoyed this novel.  I loved the images that I got and I grew to admire and empathize with the protagonist even though we grew up and live/lived in different times and cultures. The author also writes beautifully and seemed to have meticulously researched her subject matter.  It was a beautiful tribute.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

I think that i read this book a while ago and didn't get it then because it was so long ago. I really liked Franzen's new novel, so I picked this one up again and it was all right.

The novel is about the Lambert family - mom, dad (Enid and Alfred), and three children - tow boys (Chip and Gary) and a daughter (Denise).  The novel starts out telling Chip's story - he is the middle child and a PhD who lost his tenure track position after conducting an affair with one of his (really) young students.  He then decides to head to Lithuania to participate in a company that steals money from people by convincing them to invest in the newly blossoming country. We also meet Gary - the eldest - who has the most conventional life. He works for a bank, is married to a beautiful and smart woman and has three children.  But we learn that his marriage is absolutely miserable, with both he and his wife conducting warfare and making their children pawns in the process. We also meet Denise, who is a chef in high demand in Philadelphia. Enid is caught in a love triangle, with her at the point - between herself, her boss and his wife.  Enid and Alfred are their parents. Alfred is beginning to suffer the ravages of age, including dementia and adult underwear. Enid actually is the character that ties everything together by trying to convince all her children to come home for one last Christmas together in the house.

I just wasn't all that impressed by this novel, in spite of the hype (and there was apparently hype associated with this novel when it came out). There are too many loose strings that were tied up in such a way that I thought that Franzen was like "OH! I totally forgot - I have to DO something with that storyline." But there are also loose ends that remain dangling in the wind. I don't know if Gary and his wife split up. Or what happens with Diane and her relationship issues.  I DID love the writing style itself.  IT was very wordy and thick and I really like that sort of style - it's a style that you can really sink your teeth into. Franzen has a mastery of the language that very few authors have. 

Get it out of the library if you want to read it but don't add it to your library.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong

So, I'm a mommy and I read. And when I had my first - Nate - I read a lot of Mommy memoirs.  I read this one because I love Heather Armstrong, who authors a popular blog in the mommy sphere.  I also really wanted to learn about another woman's experiences with post-partum depression and Ms. Armstrong went through a very, very tough time (and I wanted to talk about it on my podcast let's be honest). She had a breakdown and was actually hospitalized briefly in order to be stablized on her meds.

While I enjoyed the fact that it was a quick read and the writing style was fun, it didn't even begin to scratch the surface with regards to the big issues: post partum depression, the struggles to be perfect, the struggles in breastfeeding and whether to continue in the face of such mental health issues.  At times, I did laugh but I wish that the issues and the struggles had been tackled with much more depth than Heather actually tackled them. 

I think that Ms. Armstrong is really good at telling stories.  In some ways, her talent at telling stories disappointed me all the more because she could have told stories that reached out and helped women through their darkest moments. 

I would recommend getting this book out of the library and definitely reading her blog, but don't know that I would add this book to the home library.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

I think that I must have been the only person in high school that didn't have to read this book for English class.  And I have this wierd, almost romantic, notion that i will get through a lot of the classics, if not all of them, before I die. I also have this thing about books that occur on college campuses or at prep schools And this was one of those books that, on its face, seemed to fit all of those interests.  But I was disappointed, I must say and I was happy that the book was so short, comparatively speaking.

The novel is set at Devon, a prep school in New Hampshire (that is obviously loosely based on Exeter) during the 40's. World War II is raging on.  The novel focuses on Phineas (Finny for short) and Gene (the protagonist) who is best friends with Finny. They are seemingly best friends - at the very least, they became friends quickly. The honeymoon period is followed by a period of one sided animosity with Gene hating Finny with such intensity that it's surprising that nothing worse happened sonner than it did. It culminates, at least initially, with Gene knocking Finny out of a tree that they were using to jump into a river and with Finny receiving a shattered leg that ruins his athletic career. The book meanders on until the ending, which threw me a little bit for a loop, but then I became embarassed because I really thought that I should have expected it.

I didn't mind the fact that there wasn't a lot of action.  Some of the best books, in my opinion, don't have a lot of action in them but have a ton of stuff that you can still sink your teeth into - relationships, philosophy, a good story, characters that you connect with and care about. But this novel didn't have anything like that.  It didn't have a story, I didn't particularly care for the characters (or how Knowles created them) and I didn't particularly empathize with anything that happened either. Which meant that the story was just plain boring. And disappointing. And made me glad that I didn't have to read it in English class.

I would pass.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...