Monday, December 27, 2010

Week 51: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson (358 pages)

A story about a 68-year-old retired British Major and a 58-year-old Pakistani shopkeeper does not, on the surface, seem like it would be an enjoyable read. You would be wrong. This delightful book was a great read for this holiday week. Reading this story was like taking a leisurely stroll in your favorite park or savoring that last bit of your favorite meal. It definitely was not to be rushed. For a super-fast reader like myself with very little patience to spare - this was initially a tough book for me to settle down and enjoy. Once I did, though - it was fantastically worth it.

Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are drawn together by loneliness and literature (Rudyard Kipling) in particular. Each have their own family obligations that keep them at arm's length - but each have an inner strength that compels them forward. Both characters have lost their spouses and hold very particular positions a sleepy English village. As they develop feelings for one another, the small town of gossips begin to impart their subtle prejudices toward the two. This book does a great job of covering multicultural issues, village politics, good manners and family dynamics. The village is such a throwback to the past that I often had to remind myself that it was set in modern day Britain. The Major often fussed about mobile phones, the internet and the general lack of decorum of the young generation (including his son Roger).

The writing-style that Ms. Simonson employs in this debut novel is witty and reminiscent of Austen. If you are interested in a story filled with colorful characters that drink lots of tea, this is the book for you. A fantastic read.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Week 50: Goodnight Tweetheart - Teresa Medeiros (240 pages)

I am in love with love and always have been. This week’s book “Goodnight Tweetheart” is a lovely romantic novel set in 2010 NYC (the most romantic American city??). Very timely and quirky this book was an incredibly fast read. As a matter of fact I finished it in one day over the span of 6 hours. 

In my teen years I would spend hours reading romance novels. Danielle Steel, Johanna Lindsey and Catherine Coulter were my friends who wrote love stories that unfortunately helped to form my misbegotten knowledge of men! Sometimes the “members” did throb – other times, not so much. And sometimes the coming together was so sadly un-romantic that I was sure I had done something wrong. As I grew older and my pleasure in reading these books was deemed “guilty” I started to back away from the genre. But – lingering in my mind – was a love. I could read “Outlander” by Gabaldon – not outwardly romantic, but epic in scope and breadth and thank goodness for Philippa Gregory and her tales of “The Other Boleyn Sister” (steamy stuff with history thrown in)! So when I came across this book at Borders, I was intrigued. I got a love story with pop culture references thrown in – bonus!

The story is about author Abby Donovan who was the literary “it” girl when her debut novel was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. We find her four years after the fact with a colossal case of writer’s block and a book deadline that looms in front of her like the Grand Canyon. She “meets” Mark on Twitter and embarks on a fantastic ride. This book is very different from those classic romance books that I was a big fan of in my younger years. There was no sex in this book, no bodices ripping, no members – throbbing or otherwise and very little “language”. The story is told in 90% Tweets (those lovely conversations using 140 characters or less). The correspondence is perfect and genuine and quite fitting. Since it is a romantic novel – things go sideways and there is a push to set things straight, but I must say that although I had a hope as to how the book would end – I was surprised at the path the author took us down to reach the conclusion.

I love reading and I love escapist reading. Sometimes I like to learn new things, but often when I read, I want to suspend disbelief and enter someone else’s world. I can’t say how much I loved this book and how lovely it was to enter the world of Abby and Mark – it was all I could do not to look them up on Twitter and join in their conversation. This is a perfect book to read on a cold (ish) winter night. It definitely warmed my heart. My pleasure is my pleasure – others can call it guilty, I call it fun to read!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Week 49: Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert (334 pages)

This week I chose to re-visit a book that I was not a fan of when I initially picked it up in 2007. Whenever people talked about this book they would gush and say that it changed their lives and would wax poetically about the wisdom that the author Elizabeth Gilbert put forth in this memoir. In 2007 I was in a dark place (going through a separation, figuring out my life) and I was not that invested in Ms. Gilbert's platitudes. A friend of mine picked up this book and was such a great fan, I thought maybe I should pick it up and try again. I mean, it had been three years since I had last tried it out, I had grown (up!!) and I was more mature...

Getting into was pretty easy, but then I found myself having my same old issues with memoirs that I often have - I DON'T CARE!! So I put the book down, walked away and read a magazine or two. When I picked the book up again I realized that I really did care and I put the book down because I read something that hit a little too close to home. Here is the passage:

"I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism." 

Well dammit Elizabeth!! I could have written that statement. I make decisions, about life, men, shoes, finances, etc. very quickly. While I can deal with the outcomes of most all of them - that man decision sometimes lands me in a quandary. So, I kept reading this book and I learned some things and I made some more decisions and I decided that I still did not love this book, but I can respect Ms. Gilbert and I appreciate the journey that she took. She stated things that were of course known to me, but that I would lock away and choose not to think about. 

I am happy that I read this book again, and that I picked it up so near the end of an incredibly trying year. I will remember what Ms. Gilbert spoke about, I will try to remember that "I think I deserve something beautiful"...that can be a pair of shoes, a new house, a beautiful relationship, or a wonderful book. 

Week 48: Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins (398 pages)

This is the final chapter of the Hunger Games Trilogy and it ended with a bang. Ms. Collins is an adept author that made this a thrilling series that was difficult to turn away from or even to stop thinking about it (too many nights had Katniss and gang swirling through my dreams)!!

In this book we find that Katniss is the face of the revolution that hopes to give the power back to the people of the districts and to override the power of the Capitol. There were many exciting turns in this story, some I could predict and some that blew my mind! 

With all of that being said, I don't know if I can truthfully say that I loved this novel. It was a fantastic novel and I cannot think of a better way for a trilogy to come to a close. Collins hits the perfect note of sadness and sweetness and pain and healing all rolled into one big jumble. This was a much more severe book than the first two, it was much harder to read (though I read it in almost one sitting) with more emotional depth. It was a bittersweet book and it still makes me think. I am not disappointed with the way the book ended, I think that I am just disappointed that the story has ended. That is why I can't say that I loved it - I think I was just too sad that it was over. 

Bravo Ms. Collins - you captured me with your post-apocalyptic YA madness. Thank you!