Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

About a month ago I decided to re-start posting to my blog. I knew I wanted to start with this book.  I read her book The Goldfinch sometime in the last year and was blown away (it did win the Pulitzer Prize).  Immediately after I finished it I put her other two books on my wish list.  I quickly received The Little Friend and while I thought it was very good, it wasn’t quite at The Goldfinch level. 

I’m one of those people which looks at every list of books I come across, just to make sure I’m not missing something wonderful.  Every time I saw a list of the top books of the last century, The Secret History was on it. Ok, I’m getting more and more eager to read it. I finally received it a few weeks ago. I was flummoxed that it was a “mass-market paperback” (you know…the kind you can buy in the grocery store).  I was under the impression that nothing worth reading could be found between the covers of a mass-market paperback!  (Ok, that statement is probably about a 3 on the sarcasm meter, but I will admit that I am a bit of a book snob!)  I decided to read it anyway, all those lists could not be that wrong.

Book synopsis from back cover of the book:  “Richard Papen had never been to New England before his nineteenth year. Then he arrived at Hampden College and quickly became seduced by the sweet, dark rhythms of campus life—in particular by an elite group of five students, Greek scholars, worldly, self-assured, and at first glance, highly unapproachable.

Yet as Richard was accepted and drawn into their inner circle, he learned a terrifying secret that bound them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning…”

This is not really a “whodunit”, we know who from the beginning, but a “whydunit”. It is thoroughly gripping and lyrical.  The characters are believable and enchanting. It is interesting to me that all the main characters come from a somewhat dysfunctional family, but then again, maybe they needed that in order to believe that they did what they did.  So many questions! Someone read this book so I can discuss it with you!

Mormon Mention: At one point two of the main characters go far into town where the locals are not used to the students showing up there.  They two young men (dressed in suits and ties) are sitting at the bar drinking some kind of alcohol when the waitress mistakes them for Mormon missionaries and comments on them drinking, saying something like, “Huh, they let you guys drink now? I thought you couldn’t even drink coffee.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cross Currents by John Shors

Thailand's pristine Ko Phi Phi island attracts tourists from around the world. There, struggling to make ends meet, small-resort owners Lek and Sarai are happy to give an American named Patch room and board in exchange for his help. But when Patch's brother, Ryan, arrives, accompanied by his girlfriend, Brooke, Lek learns that Patch is running from the law, and his presence puts Lek's family at risk. Meanwhile, Brooke begins to doubt her love for Ryan while her feelings for Patch blossom.

In a landscape where nature's bounty seems endless, these two families are swept up in an approaching cataclysm that will require all their strength of heart and soul to survive. 

John Shors, brilliant author that he is, tells us at the beginning of this novel that it is about the 2004 “Christmas Tsunami” which devastated parts of Indonesia and this little Island off Thailand.  Two waves hit Ko Phi Phi, and met in the middle of the island pulling buildings and people out to sea, killing nearly one-third of the population of the Island. 

I read this book in almost one sitting. As you read and become invested in these people, in the back of your mind you know the tsunami is coming and you wonder who will survive.  You can’t stand the thoughts of losing any of these wonderful people, but you have to keep reading to find out what happens.  You can’t help love Lek and Sarai and their children and Patch, the American.  This is one not to be missed.

5 stars (PG-13 Brief sex scenes)

The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene

May 1940. Fleeing a glamorous Manhattan life built on lies, Claire Harris arrives in Paris with a romantic vision of starting anew. But she didn't anticipate the sight of Nazi soldiers marching under the Arc de Triomphe. Her plans smashed by the German occupation, the once- privileged socialite's only option is to take a job in a flower shop under the tutelage of a sophisticated Parisian florist.

In exchange for false identity papers, Claire agrees to aid the French Resistance. Despite the ever-present danger, she comes to love the enduring beauty of the City of Light, exploring it in the company of Thomas Grey, a mysterious Englishman working with the Resistance. Claire's bravery and intelligence make her a valuable operative, and slowly her values shift as she witnesses the courageous spirit of the Parisians.

But deception and betrayal force her to flee once again-this time to fight for the man she loves and what she knows is right-praying she has the heart and determination to survive long enough to one day see Paris again.

This is a stunning debut novel from Lynn Sheene. I can’t wait to see what she does next!  I devoured the last half of this book.  She does a great job developing characters that we love and care about.  Claire’s character changes and grows and we grow along with her and cheer for her. 

4 stars (Rated R – War violence and sex scenes)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani

This is the second book of a trilogy.  I did not know that until after I read the third book “All This Talk of Love”.  The first book is “A Kiss from Maddalena”.  It would have been better to read them in the correct order. I had to go back and thumb through “All This Talk of Love” after reading this book just to check a few things out.  “The Saint of Lost Things” takes place about seven years after “A Kiss from Maddalena", while “All This Talk of Love” is 50 years after “A Kiss from Maddalena". 

It has been seven years since Maddalena left her small town of St. Ceclia in Italy.  She is disturbed that she and Antonio have not been able to have a child. Antonio is obsessed with the American Dream, a home of their own, a Cadillac in the driveway and their own restaurant to make them rich.  Castellani takes us on a journey with them and their family and neighbors. He has a way of moving a story forward through flashbacks that is enjoyable and very readable.

4 stars (Rated PG – nothing too objectionable)

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Olive Farm by Carol Drinkwater

Carol Drinkwater is the British actress who played Helen in the BBC series “All Creatures Great and Small”.  This book is her story.  She fell in love with a French man, Michel, and they bought an olive farm in the south of France. 

The farm is situated in the foothills just outside of Cannes, were I spent a few months during my mission. Because of this, my review of this book may be a little prejudiced to area.  Needless to say, she has a wonderful, entertaining voice. Their tale of scraping together the money to buy this place, swimming through the paperwork of the French bureaucracy, finding honest workers to help them, dealing with the slow-paced life in Provence is delightful and enjoyable to read.  She tells their story with wit and enthusiasm.

Her descriptions of the island of Ste. Marguerite (just off the coast of Cannes) almost brought me to tears as I spent a magical day there myself. Even her images of the city of Cannes were delightful and invoked many memories. 

I believe anyone would love this book, but it was extra special to me.

5 Stars (Rated PG, she writes her cuss words as sh**, loved it!)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Written in the mid 1800’s the book takes place in 1600’s Puritan Boston. Hester Prynne, having come to America several years prior without her husband, is being publically punished for having a child from an adulterous relationship.  She is forced to wear an “A” on her breast to mark her sin, among other punishments.  She refuses to name the man, who we quickly ascertain is the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.  Also at the scene is Hester’s long-lost husband in disguise as Roger Chillingworth. He procures a promise from Hester not to reveal his true identity and quickly begins a mission to uncover the identity of her partner and wreck revenge upon him.

Through the years, the child, Pearl, grows into an unusual, “impish sprite” and Hester begins to find her way in a shunning society as a seamstress.  Hester adorns her “A” with gold thread and much ornate embroidery. (In my book club discussion we liked to say she “bedazzled” it.)  Dimmesdale punishes himself for his sin and becomes physically ill. Roger Chillingworth, a self-educated, intelligent man, re-invents himself as a doctor and moves in with Dimmesdale in order to treat his illness.  Chillingworth quickly figures out that Dimmesdale was Hester’s illicit partner and set about to ruin mental and physical well-being.

This book of classic literature is rife with symbolism, foreshadowing, and lectures on morality.  Hester’s character confused and delighted me.  I was confused as to why she would allow both of the men in her life to remain in secret while she is so openly reviled.  However, her in-your-face independence with her “bedazzled A” and making her own way in a male-dominated society, made me stand up and cheer.

There is also quite a message of true repentance.  One can see Hester’s peace of mind from having her sin out in the open and taking her punishment with humility versus the agony that Dimmesdale endures while hiding his sin. And then there is Chillingworth and his own brand of evil; he becomes a grizzled old man, showing us that Satan does not support his minions.

All of that being said, you must ‘get into the lingo’ of Hawthorne.  There were times when I would float back up to present day and find the book so melodramatic that I would get the giggles. Hester’s soliloquy in the forest would make a great piece for high-school drama class.  All in all, a “must-read” for any literature aficionado.

4 Stars (Rated PG for adult themes)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

A devoted city dweller, Cornelia Brown surprised no one more than herself when she was gripped by the sudden, inescapable desire to leave urban life behind and head for an idyllic suburb. Though she knows she and her beloved husband, Teo, have made the right move, she approaches her new life with trepidation and struggles to forge friendships in her new home. Cornelia's mettle is quickly tested by judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt. Perfectly manicured, impeccably dressed, and possessing impossible standards, Piper is the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she would find in suburbia. A saving grace soon appears in the form of Lake. Over a shared love of literature and old movies, Cornelia develops an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman who has also recently arrived in town, ostensibly to send her perceptive and brilliant son, Dev, to a school for the gifted.

Marisa de los Santos is a genius in developing characters which we love and cheer for.  The story is told in the voices of Cornelia, Piper and Dev and by the end of the book you feel that they have become your close friend and you are truly rooting for them. She portrays what is means to "belong" to another person. The book is gripping…I dare you to read 50 pages and then be able to walk away and leave it.

5 Stars (Rated PG-13 for brief sex and language)