Nov 28, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Thankful For Reading (My Thankfully Reading Update)

As you may know, this is the second year of the Thankfully Reading Weekend Read-A-Thon. I participated last year and I loved it. It was my first read-a-thon. Its usually a great reading weekend for me because my BF always goes to Alabama hunting that week, so I have all the time in the world to read. So I signed up again, however, I didn't get the chance to read as much this time. I did manage to get some reading done yesterday, but only 147 pages. Today I'm hoping to read about as many. Even though I didn't get to read at all Friday, it was worth the time I got to spend with my sister. This year, Thankfully Reading has a different meaning for me . . .

My sister Linda is two years older than me and she suffers from the same hereditary retinal disease that I have but she is further along with it. In the last eight months or so, she has lost 99% of her vision. She has such a strong will and positive attitude that you never see her cry or feel sorry for herself. She is a real inspiration to me. I look at her and I know that I will be where she is in a matter of years. My disease is moving more slowly because I am a non-smoker and have been my whole life, whereas Linda, although not a heavy smoker, has smoked since her early 20's. Since neither of us drive, it is sometimes hard for us to get together since she doesn't live really close to me. However, after dinner on Thursday, she came home with me and spent the night and we stayed up late talking (and eating) and we had such a great time. Now, I am even more proud of her than before. It must be a scary thing to only have 1% of sight but she trudges right along. She lives alone and does very well as long as she's in familiar surroundings. She spent a big part of Friday with me as well and it made for a great holiday.

So even though I didn't get to read Friday, I am even more thankful that I CAN still read my books. I don't read as fast as others and sometimes my eyes get really tired and I have to stop, but I can still see the written pages in front of me. Maybe not as clearly but I can still see it through my cloudy tunnel vision. So this Thanksgiving that is what I'm thankful for. Hopefully next year I will still see well enough to participate in Thankfully Reading again.

Nov 22, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Earlier this year I read THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and became completely immersed into the story of murder and financial intrigue, which, if I'm honest, kind of surprised me. This second book in the Millennium Trilogy is much different than the first. While THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was mostly centered around Mikael Blomkvist, this installment takes us into the life of Lisbeth Salander and her past that she tries desperately to keep private.

Here's a quick synopsis from THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE . . .

Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about the sex trade in Sweden are brutally murdered, and Salander's prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society - but no-one can find her anywhere. Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist, editor-in-chief of Millennium, will not believe what he hears on the news. Knowing Salander to be fierce when fearful, he is desperate to get to her before she is cornered and alone. As he fits the pieces of the puzzle together, he comes up against some hardened criminals, including the chainsaw-wielding 'blond giant' - a fearsomely huge thug who can feel no pain. Digging deeper, Blomkvist also unearths some heart-wrenching facts about Salander's past life. Committed to psychiatric care aged 12, declared legally incompetent at 18, this is a messed-up young woman who is the product of an unjust and corrupt system. Yet Lisbeth is more avenging angel than helpless victim - descending on those that have hurt her with a righteous anger terrifying in its intensity and truly wonderful in its outcome.

My thoughts:

I'll just cut to the chase and state right here that I LOVED this book! Although I did enjoy the first book very much, I did grow tired of all of the character development and background information regarding all of the suspects surrounding the disappearance of Harriet Vanger some sixty years previous. But I hung in there and was completely satisfied with the outcome. The biggest contrast with this second book is that the character of Lisbeth Salander is front and center from the very beginning. It doesn't take long at all for things to start happening and once they do, it is a suspenseful ride filled with great characters and plot twists.

What I found impressive was that even though Salander is being hunted for murdering two people who were working closely with Blomkvist, the two of them don't actually come into contact until the last part of the book. But that doesn't mean they aren't involved with each other. I loved the way Larrson wrote this book. It completely had me from the beginning and didn't let go. It is hands down my favorite of the two books.

If you are one of those people who really had a hard time getting through book #1, I promise you won't have that problem with THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE. It is edge-of-your-seat thrilling from beginning to end. I'm very much looking forward to the third book, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS NEST. I'm planning to read it the first of the year. I resisted reading this series when it first came out because I usually don't get sucked into books with such
hype and mass popularity but my curiosity got the better of me and I can honestly say I'm really glad I made the exception. These books are definitely in my top 5 for 2010.

Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Vintage
Version: Paperback
Published: March 2010
Pages: 630
Grade: A+

Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson (Kindle Version)

UP FROM THE BLUE by Susan Henderson is one of those books that as you read, you have more questions. Because of that, I want to be careful explaining the premise so nothing is given away prematurely. Here is a synopsis I'm borrowing from Goodreads:

Tillie Harris's life is in disarray—her husband is away on business, the boxes in her new home aren't unpacked, and the telephone isn't even connected yet. Though she's not due for another month, sudden labor pains force Tillie to reach out to her estranged father for help, a choice that means facing the painful memories she's been running from since she was a little girl.

My thoughts:

The beginning of this impressive debut novel starts out with Tillie as a grown woman expecting her first child, which sets up the story. Then we are transported back to 1975 when Tillie was eight years old. This is where most of the story is told to us by Tillie. More than anything Tillie only wants to know where her mother is and why won't anybody tell her anything. Her father is busy with his work all the time and her older brother, Phil, just wants her to leave him alone.

One of my favorite types of books are those told through a child's eye. There's so much honesty and raw emotions and that is exactly what this book delivers. Starting out, we don't really know where Tillie's mother is or what happened to her yet as the story unfolds, we draw our own assumptions. The anticipation of finding out kept me turning the pages (or hitting 'next page' on my Kindle, as it were). When the answer was revealed, even though I thought I had it figured out, the confirmation took my breath away.

Another reason I am so fond of this book is that in 1975 I was only three years older than Tillie and I could recall and relate to many of the things that were happening at the time. Being a child during that time myself, I understand the philosophy that parents had back then that children were to be seen and not heard. Important matters weren't discussed with children, they were expected to just adapt to things as they happened. I thought Susan Henderson did a fabulous job of taking us back to that time. It was a much simpler time and much of it made me very nostalgic and brought back memories of things I hadn't thought of in years.

When I made the connection between the title and what it meant, that was another memorable moment for me. I was like, 'Ah, I get it now.' Those are always favorites moments for me as a reader and, I think, a sign of a good book.

The characters were not many, but they were very memorable. I loved Tillie as a little girl, both mischievous and inquisitive, though as a grown woman and expectant mother, I did have concerns about her. My favorite character was Mr. Woodson, Tillie's teacher. The relationship she had with him was heartwarming and made me happy that she had an adult in her life that she looked up to and felt she could trust completely given everything that was happening in her life at the time.

Even though the author revealed things slowly in this book, she didn't jerk us around. The story moved along in a way that kept it fresh and made me want to keep reading. Susan Henderson is definitely an author I will be looking out for in the future.

Susan Henderson
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: September 2010
Pages: 336
Grade: A-

Nov 11, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue (Kindle Edition)

ROOM by Emma Donoghue is one of the hardest books I've ever had to get through. It's also one of the best books I've ever read. While reading this award-winning novel, I was often torn between thinking it was brilliant and thinking it was just too much. In the end, brilliance won out. Amazon named it a Best of the Month for September.

Here is a little about the book taken from the author's website.

Jack and Ma live in a locked room that measures eleven foot by eleven. When he turns five, he starts to ask questions, and his mother reveals to him that there is a world outside. Told entirely in Jack’s voice, ROOM is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.

My thoughts

When I decided to read ROOM, I didn't really know what to expect. I knew it was an extremely difficult subject matter and that it would probably keep me up at night. I was right. With the entire story being told through five-year-old Jack, I have to admit that it took me some time to get used to his vocabulary and speech but once I got used to it, it flowed. All I can say about this book is WOW! This is an incredible story of a young woman trying to raise her son in unthinkable conditions without allowing the horror of their situation to affect him. The innocence that Ma is able to maintain in Jack's mind is vital to his development in becoming a 'normal' kid.

There were times that I thought I just couldn't take anymore of the story but I knew changes were coming. It was worth all of the angst and sorrow I felt for Ma and Jack. Emma Donoghue painstakingly takes the reader through every minute of every day to establish exactly what it must have been like to be held captive while trying to make the best of it for the sake of her child. The lengths she goes to and what she endures is simply astounding.

As their story unfolds, Donoghue continues to share each moment and each new experience in such a precise and methodical way that it only makes it even more realistic. She also has done an amazing job of staying true to the telling of the story in a most unusual, effective manner. She never once waivers from Jack's own words or way of speaking and that is a feat in itself. She masterfully maintains a difficult writing style from a child's perspective all the way through the book. The writing is raw, honest and absolutely different than anything I've ever read in my life. This is a book that I am certain will stay with me indefinitely. That said, it is a book that will not appeal to everyone. I have to admit that there were times in the first quarter of the book that I didn't know if I could stick it out but I kept reading. For me, it was more Jack's way of speaking and the day to day details that wore on me, but then I realized that was the author's intent. She had to show the monotony of each day. This was their life. It was all they had and Ma was simply trying to make the best of it for her son. Once I realized this I also appreciated what Emma Donoghue had accomplished with this book.

Another wonderful thing about Jack is that he tells us his mother's story without even realizing it. Through things he sees and hears, he pieces together for the reader important details about his mother's life even before he was born. Most times, he doesn't even realize what he has actually learned. After reading this book its easy to see why Emma Donoghue has received such high praise. Will I recommend this book? Absolutely, but with a warning that it isn't an easy book to read, but well worth the journey.

Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: September 2010
Pages 336
Rating: A+