Saturday, September 29, 2007

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife

by Irene Spencer
published 2007
pages 385

Genre: Memoir

I was prompted to purchase this book because of my infatuation with the HBO hit series, Big Love. I no longer have HBO, and when the second season began, I was pretty upset that I couldn't keep up on all the drama. This novel was reviewed in People magazine, and I felt it would provide me with insight and a different perspective of the polygamist lifestyle.
While reading her memoir, I couldn't help but compare it to the HBO series, considering that is the only true "inside" look I have had into the polygamist lifestyle. Aside from a few minor details, it is amazing how accurately HBO has portrayed this way of life.

Irene's story is heartbreaking. A page doesn't turn without some kind of tragedy or heartache--whether literal or figurative--physical or emotional. Irene's upbringing lead her to Verlan, an older man, who was already married to Charlotte, Irene's half-sister. With no formal courting, Verlan accepted his second wife--elated to now be in the running for celestial glory. Irene was his stepping stone; one that he referred back to many times during their many years of marriage.
Marrying Verlan at the young age of 16, Irene didn't have the opportunity to find out who she was or who she wanted to be--in a polygamist family no woman is given that time. She is to obey her husband and assist him in creating his kingdom. Irene's obligatory obedience lead her to a life of near-incessant pregnancy and constant neglect from her husband. Irene felt needed, as she was an integral part of the family, but she never felt fully loved by her husband.
Irene's doubt in her religion lead to unspeakable guilt. She never knew who or what to listen to--her religion or her heart. In spite of her feelings, Irene succumbed to the polygamist values, living a lifestyle she so desperately tried to believe.
Spencer takes the time to delve into the history of polygamy, educating her readers, while giving them a pure look into a world that not many have been privy to. Even though Spencer's raw memoir shows her during times of tremendous weakness, she somehow finds the strength to prevail, ultimately finding unconditional love.

4.0

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Shadow of the Wind

by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Published 2001
pages 487

Genre: fiction/mystery

Stephen King noted this novel as "one gorgeous read," which could have attributed to the enjoyment I found through its pages; however, it was, without a doubt, the most entertaining novel I have read in a long time. The others I read this summer had good and unique qualities, but this one struck me as one that I will turn to over and over again.

Young Daniel is taken, by his widowed father, to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel is an avid reader, and is overwhelmed by this mysterious place his father has taken him to. Once inside the cemetery, Daniel is instructed to search through the labyrinth for any book--one that jumps out--it is that book that he will adopt as his own. Daniel finds "The Shadow of the Wind" by Julian Carax in a far corner. Daniel spends a sleepless night leafing through the pages until, satisfied, he closes the book. It was the best book he had ever read. When a family friend offers Daniel an exorbitant amount of money for the book, Daniel becomes suspicious and intrigued with the potential worth of the book he chose.
After some detective work, Daniel learns that someone is searching the globe for every copy of every book Carax ever wrote and burning them. This book turns Daniel's world upside down, but also brings him wisdom and an understanding of the world around him. The more he discovers, the less he actually knows. He is sent on wild goose chases that lead him to interesting characters with not-always beneficial information. The plot is intricate and labyrinthine, enigmatic and fascinating.
Zafon's style is effortlessly eloquent: Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart, and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day. The imagery is astounding; it lurks, traveling with the breeze through every page.
Zafon will definitely become a name I look for.

5.0

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith
Published 1998
Pages 235

Genre: Mystery

On the search for a different genre, I came across this intriguing series by Alexander McCall Smith. After reading some reviews, I decided to start with the first volume.
Precious Ramotswe is an inquisitive, fearless woman, who has decided to open up her very own detective agency in Botswana. This first book dedicates a lot of time to flashbacks, as a way to give the reader clearer insight into the world of this woman. It doesn’t take long to fall in love with her. She is an educated woman, but she does not always think things through. She makes a lot of mistakes (reminiscent of the old Sherlock Holmes), but somehow she always manages to come out on top.
Albeit, some situations are “campy”; however, the charm with which Smith captures the scene, makes for an entertaining read. Smith’s ability to capture Africa into tight little snip-its of detail, come together nicely for an adequate picture of African life and surroundings. From his use of Setswana vernacular, to the rare glimpses of African insects and open plains, Smith illustrates Africa beautifully and honestly.
Mme Ramotswe is the epitome of the true African woman; she is wise, stubborn, large, kind, intuitive, and honest, among others. Reading deeper into Smith’s descriptions of the African countryside, as well as its culture, it is clear that Mme Ramotswe is not only the epitome of the African woman, but also a representation of Africa itself.
Even though some of Mme Ramotswe’s investigations are a bit predictable, and some of the tangents are a bit drawn-out, it was fun getting to know her and going along on these adventures with her. I look forward to reading the second volume, and the third, and the fourth…

4.0

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

by Gregory Maguire
Published 1999
368 Pages

Genre: Fiction

Cinderella--a story that has survived many ages, has been told through the generations, of beauty, perseverance, and happy every afters.
Maguire's style is charming and quite alluring--he reaches into the depths of the fairy tale to bring truth and realism to a story full of magic and wonder.
The story begins through tragedy--as most fairy tales do--surrounding the lives of Margarethe and her two ugly daughters as they flee their home in England in search of safety--in search of fortune. What they find leads them into a twisted world full of deception, jealousy, love, growth, and beauty.
Maguire's themes do echo those found in many versions of the widely rewritten tale; however, his "prequal" dives deeper, exploring regions and characters overlooked by Grimms and others over the years. The ugly stepsisters, who essentially discover Cinderella, have been overshadowed in previous renditions by the beauty of Cinderella portrays. Maguire, however, allows readers to see the inner workings of the household in which they lived and brings life to the sisters who were once only known for their profound ugliness, both inside and out.
Retrospect is a technique Maguire employs through the stepsisters, which allows them (and the reader) to see things as they really happened--with no bias--merely memories etched in their minds.
Although the climax does not come until the final chapters, the relatively slow rising action period is well worth the read through. Secrets are revealed and understanding becomes truth. Maguire brings light and life to the classic fairy tale.

3.75

Friday, March 9, 2007

Slacking

I know I've been falling down on the recreational reader reviews, but I promise, new reviews are on the way.

Upcoming reviews:
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
Running With Scissors

Friday, February 16, 2007

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen
Published: 2006
331 pages

Genre: Fiction

The pages turn easily as the plot quickly thickens. Beginning with an action-packed scene, Gruen shows the great potential of this novel with fluidity and a touch of mystery.
Chapter One introduces Gruen's reminiscent technique through the eyes of Jacob Jankowski. From then on, there are several indications as to where the plot will lead. The plot is, at times, predictable; however, this is overshadowed by the delightful writing style Gruen implements to convey the protagonist's rich emotion. In addition, there are elements of the circus that are, at once, shocking and even romantic.
The circus has frightening secrets that are exposed as they become a reality for the young veterinary student. The circus is an enigmatic event that disappears as fast as it emerges. The detail used provides explicit images of circus life, which gives a clear notion of the world in which the circus performers and workers lived. The alluring, magical circus reveals its romantic qualities through the workers, performers, the audience, and even the animals that are involved.
Love develops on many levels, and it is discovered and explored through circumstances that are not necessarily ideal. A man's strength is tested, and his intentions are questioned.
Sara Gruen portrays her novel sweetly, with charm, and intelligence.

4.0

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls
288 pages

Genre: Memoir

Inspiring. Jeannette Walls' memoir is an intimate portrayal of her life, growing up with two unconvential parents. "The Glass Castle" is touching on so many levels. From the eyes of a young child, Walls elloquently shows the unconditional love that a daughter has for her parents, especially her father. A bond such as a that of a father and daughter is untouchable and heart-warming. The way she views her father is beautiful, pure, and real--despite his faults, Jeannette is able to see her father's greatness. As I close my eyes, I can see the twinkle in her eyes as she and her father tackle the world together.
Juxtaposing these sympathetic feelings, it is also heartbreaking when Jeannette finally comes to understand the real and utterly painful truth that her father's lifestyle is not condusive of that of a family man.
Walls' crystal-clear memories invite readers to experience her childhood with her. I felt like a silent member of the family, travelling with them on their "adventures." Leaving Battle Mountain, the place where Jeannette finally felt at home, made me feel just as sentimental--I sympathized with her loss, yet I was just as excited as she for her next adventure.
Beautifully written, "The Glass Castle" has a many unique qualities, which include humor, persevearance, familial struggles, life lessons, family unity, individuality, and coming-of-age. With never a dull moment, I found enjoyment and interest on every page.

Score: 5.0

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel In Letters

by Mark Dunn
208 pages

Genre: Utopia

A beautiful display of language and imaginative notion. Utopian/Dystopian concepts are intriguing and a joy for me to read. Through letters written by Nollopian citizens, readers are instantly transported to a place so very similiar, yet extremely different, from their own. It's quite a trip.
Imagine, a society built on language, and having that prized and praised privilege taken away piece by piece. Through this diversity, they continue on, with honor and dignity.
"Ella Minnow Pea" is a true testament of strength and perseverance. Dunn's work was enjoyable from beginning to end. I found particular interest in the novel's potential for multiple interpretations: totalitarianism, freedom of speech, religion, and standing up for one's beliefs--to name a few. "Ella Minnow Pea" was a true pleasure to read.

Score: 4.5

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

About the Reviews

The books are randomly chosen.
Some are recommended by friends or the girl at the Borders counter.
Others I picked because I like the author or the cover caught my eye.
Genre is also provided, for those who are genre-biased.
Each book is scored on a scale of 5.0 -- 5.0 being the best, of course.

Happy Reading!!