Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

PLOT Hosseini portrays the tumult of Afghanistan's last thirty years as reflected in the lives of two woman married to the same man. Miriam was a harami, a bastard,loved by her father,Jalil, but not quite enough. She's quickly married off to the brutal Rasheed to safely rid Jalil's legitimate family of her embarrassing existence. Laila is young, beautiful and well-educated by her doting father, but as the violence of Afghanistan's repeated upheavals decimates her family, she, too, marries Raheed to survive. In the midst of killing and oppression, bombs and hardship, beatings and tears, the two form a bond that enables them to continue living.
Why I Pulled This Book from My TBR Shelf I had read and loved the Kite Runner, one the the most powerful and beautiful books I've ever experienced.
Comment A Thousand Splendid Suns presents much more history than does The Kite Runner. In Suns, Hosseini intertwines periodic history lessons with the story (and it's obvious these lessons are a digression), even giving all the names of the warlords, where they were from, and their political goals. While in Runner, the history is there, it functions as a backdrop against which the plot unfolds. Suns, occasionally bordering on didactic, and perhaps incorporating too much information for some readers, did give me a much better sense of why Afghanistan is so torn and what the Afghan people have endured. The character development is excellent - I understood and identified with these two women even though my world is so different. Hosseini's writing "engages" the reader with both the characters and the setting. He has the ability to draw you into his world - I felt as if I experienced both books with all my senses. Highly Recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind - Ann B. Ross

Absolutely Delightful! A Real Treat!
PLOT "Miss Julia" Springer is surprised when the sudden death of her pillar-of-the-community husband, banker Wesley Lloyd, leaves her a very rich widow. Just when she's considering central air-conditioning for her home (Wesley Lloyd deemed it to be a waste of money), she discovers, right on her own doorstep, something else he's left - Wesley Lloyd Junior - a pale nine-year old. Pretty soon, Pastor Ledbetter, her clergyman, is trying to claim her inheritance for the church; a Bible-thumping televangelist, "Brother Vern," arrives looking for Little Lloyd; the police suspect Miss Julia might be involved foul-play, and she's driving a get-away car.
COMMENT Ross writes with wry humour, delivering a warm and witty (cliche wording, but very true here) portrait of small town life. The images of the formerly prim and proper Miss Julia adopting a new style of merging into traffic (step on the gas and go) or speeding down the highway protected by a phalanx of big rigs were laugh-out-loud material. I chuckled all the way through this book, not only because I could recognize so much that was familiar, but also because reading it is just plain fun. As she gains her own voice, Miss Julia's observations and comments are filled with both wisdom and dry humour. She muses, "Now I understood. Anytime a preacher starts talking about stewardship, he's talking about your money and his plans. Especially his building plans." A big thank you to fellow book blogger Tiny for recommending and lending Miss Julia to me for the Southern Reading Challenge!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Our Former Lives in Art - Jennifer S Davis

PLOT LINES Alabama native Jennifer S Davis draws us into the lives and emotional conflicts of her characters. Set in the Deep South, her nine short stories capture with insight, power and compassion, the turmoil and drama of human relationships. In the title story, a father whose lifetime joys are football, hunting and fishing tries to connect with his young son whose first word was "art" and who has created, since the age of two, amazingly realistic, detailed, and gory drawings of Civil War battles. In "Lovely Lily," as part of a program ("Love Knows No Age") to pair the old with the young, the rebellious, troubled title character finds a surprising kinship with a man who is "sucked dry as a husk from emphysema." In "Rapture," Opal knows she shouldn't get in her car and go out with a tornado roaring toward her town. In her head, she hears, with apprehension, the whisper, "Now, the time is now," but she does get in her car and her world is redrawn.
COMMENT Davis follows in the tradition of southern authors like Welty and O'Connor. Her stories are haunting. She writes with a wry, bemused voice and a strong talent for description. Please note: this is NOT "chick lit." Highly recommended.

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger

PLOT Nice girl from a hippie-organic background joins an upscale PR agency and becomes a shallow, weight-and-fashion-obsessed borderline bimbo with the "in crowd" at the "in crowd" clubs of Manhattan. Lots of lovingly described apparel - a setting filled with gorgeous people relentlessly pursuing the life of the rich, famous and useless. Happily, girl is saved at the very end by down-to-earth prince charming.
Why in the world did I pick this book The Devil Wears Prada - I saw the movie (which I enjoyed), so I should have known better (plots like this play better on the big screen). I thought Weisberger was true chicklit and I should experience one of her books.
COMMENT If I hadn't listened to this book, I probably would have given up in the first 50 pages, but, as I've said, I have a long commute, so, with a book on CD, I'm not really wasting too much time. To enjoy Everyone Worth Knowing, you have to really care about,well, everyone worth knowing, be able to understand all the inside jokes, recognize the celebrity names, and know your Prada from a whatever (see, I don't and I don't care - can't even think of a designer). Bette Robinson is appealing enough to engage your interest, but, in 20 years, books like this one will be soooo passe, dahling. You can only go so far with pop culture. Weisberger, is a skilled writer, however - she skillfully skewers the players in this milieu just by describing them, BUT, it just wasn't my kind of book. Sigh - maybe I'm just too old to get it.
Reader Stina Nielsen was OK, just OK. Her reading lacked expression and was not convincing in many places. Too often, she sounded like a grade 11 drama student trying out for the lead part in a high school play.