Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Title:  We Need To Talk About Kevin
Author:  Lionel Shriver
Publication Information:  Counterpoint, Perseus Books Group. 2003. 497 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book because reading the publicity about the movie based on the book.

Favorite Quote:  "When you're the parent, no matter what the accident, no matter how far away you were at the time and how seemingly powerless to avert it, a child's misfortune feels like your fault. You all your kids have, and their own conviction that you will protect them is contagious."

We Need To Talk About Kevin is the story of a killer and his mother. This book begins about three days shy of Kevin's eighteenth birthday. His mother Eva is telling the story through letters she is writing to her presumably estranged husband Franklin. The letters are written over a period of six months. The chronology of the letters goes from the beginning of Franklin and Eva's marriage to the present time.

The story, however, is a nonlinear one because even at the beginning, the reader knows the horrifying truth. Three years prior, three days before his sixteenth birthday, on a Thursday, Kevin went on a killing spree. At his school, he deliberately killed nine people. At present, he is serving his sentence in prison.

Through Eva's letters, slowly the history of this family emerges. Eva's reluctance about motherhood. Kevin's sociopath tendencies. Franklin's determination to make everything seem normal. The birth of Franklin and Eva's second child Celia. Numerous instances of Kevin's increasingly deteriorating behavior. An inkling that more might have happened than we know at the beginning. Regrets and guilt of a parent and her inability to change what happened.

How do I even describe this book? This is one of the most harrowing, horrific stories I have ever read. Not horrific in a zombie apocalypse kind of way. But horrific in its bone chilling, gut-wrenching reality.

Yet, I could not put this book down. And when I did, I could not stop thinking about it. Now that I am done, I am relieved. I knew what was coming, and yet it made it no easier to actually read about it. My plan is to walk away and read something happy and shed the dark and immensely sad feelings of this one. Any book that makes me think and feel the way this one did is definitely worth reading.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Please Look After Mom

Title:  Please Look After Mom
Author:  Kyung-sook Shin
Publication Information for English Translation:  Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, Inc. 2011. 235 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book because reading the publicity about the book and seeing it at the local bookstore.

Favorite Quote:  "Even though I'm a mother, I have so many dreams of my own, and I remember things from my childhood, from when I was a girl and a young woman, and I haven't forgotten a thing. So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning? She didn't have the opportunity to pursue her dreams ... Why did I never give a thought to Mom's dreams?"

Please Look After Mom is a book translated from Korean. Kyung-sook Shin is an acclaimed South Korean author, and this is her first book that has been translated into English.

It is the story of a family. Rather, it is the reflections of one family. The premise is simple - Mom is missing. She went missing at a subway station when Father let go of her hand and lost sight of her. She is elderly and ill. The family is looking frantically for her, but she is nowhere to be found.

Who is the family? It is Father and the three children. The book is in four parts and presents reflections on the life of the family over the years from different perspectives. The elder daughter, the only son, the father/husband, and finally Mom herself mixed in with glimpses of the younger daughter who is herself a mother.

The complexities of the relationships explored and the emotions felt are beautifully expressed in this book. Essentially, it is a book of regrets. Things that should have been done and said. Actions and people or really the person who should never have been taken for granted. Expressed in a cliche, this book is all about the fact that "you don't know what you've got until it's gone." Expressed in a song lyric, this book would be about the fact that "I just wish I could have told him [her] in the living years."

I absolutely loved this book and walked away to call the people in my life and let them know my love and appreciation for them. What a wonderful debut translation of this author's. I hope we are fortunate enough to read more.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business

Title:  My Life In and Out of Show Business
Author:  Dick Van Dyke
Publication Information:  Crown Archetype, Crown Publishing Group, Random House, Inc. 2011. 331 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book because Dick Van Dyke is such an icon of my childhood - one I enjoy sharing with my family. I wanted to learn more about his life.

Favorite Quote:  "Even those immortalized are mortal."

My Life In and Out of Show Business is the memoirs of Dick Van Dyke. As a memoir, it is centered entirely on his story. The other characters including his family are introduced and included in relation to his life and when and where they impact his life. Beyond that, this is entirely the story of Dick Van Dyke.

Dick Van Dyke is an icon of my childhood. From Mary Poppins to The Dick Van Dyke Show to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Diagnosis Murder. As such, I was hesitant to read his memoirs. I find, the often, icons are better maintained as icons. Learning about the reality of their lives typically tarnishes the iconic image. That concern was even greater because of Dick Van Dyke's perpetual image as a happy and a nice man.

I was relieved to read his instructions in the introduction - he asks the reader to stop reading if they are looking for dirt. It was not that kind of book. And the book lives up to that instruction. The book is all about him and his personal and professional relationships.

On the one hand, you could call it self serving in that a man whose career is based on being the nice guy next door maintains the image in his own memoirs. Or, on the other hand, you could take the approach that that is truly who he is. He faces challenges and difficulties but gets past them with his positive approach to life.

To me, reading this book is like listening to someone tell his story while sitting comfortably in a cozy corner. I choose to maintain my idealism about this icon, and say that the book is a fascinating look at his life and that who he represents to be is who is. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Sisters

Title:  The Sisters
Author:  Nancy Jensen
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2011. 324 pages.

Book Source:  I picked up this book while browsing the new book section at our library.

Favorite Quote:  "Whatever we carry inside us shapes everyone we touch."

The Sisters follows the story of the women of a family over many generations. It all starts with sisters Mabel and Bertie. Mabel is the older; Bertie, the younger.

The story starts as they are teenagers. Their mother has passed away, and they live with their stepfather. A misunderstanding separates the two sisters. From there, the book follows the descendants of both Mabel and Bertie through many generations.

Overall, I was disappointed in the book. I expected to read the story of Mabel and Bertie and their relationship. However, what I got was similar to reading a set of short stories that explored the lives of women and the relationship between mothers and daughters and between sisters.

Although the book was tied together following the family lines of Mabel and Bertie, you could have almost read each character's story separately. This approach meant that characters and the story were not developed in depth. It made it difficult to feel an emotional connection to the characters or book because before long, the story was moving on to a different character. The book would have been stronger if it had focused in on a few of those stories - depth as opposed to breadth.

The book was not quite what I expected. However, if I look at it as a collection of short stories, it was a quick summer beach read.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberly

Title:  Death Comes to Pemberley
Author:  P. D. James
Publication Information:  Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, Inc. 2011. 291 pages.

Book Source:  I picked up this book because I love Pride and Prejudice!

Favorite Quote:  "I owe an apology to the shade of Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation.....No doubt she would have replied to my apology by saying that, had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written this story herself, and done it better." [from the Author's Note]

Death Comes to Pemberley tells of a death - possibly a murder - at Pemberley, the home of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Many of the characters from Pride and Prejudice feature in this book as well as some new ones. Lydia and Wickman, of course, are at the center of the trouble. It is a mystery in the lives of the beloved Jane Austen characters.

I was hesitant to read this book because I love Pride and Prejudice, and often, it's difficult to then read what happens in the "ever after" where a book like that ends. However, a while ago, I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and ended up enjoying the book. That book told the same basic story as the original but went completely off the wall with zombie mayhem galore. So, I decided to give another take-off story a try.

This book tells what I would consider a more real story. It occurs well after the marriages at which Pride and Prejudice ends. The characters are living through day to day life facing issues we all face. The supposed murder throws them into the middle of a mystery. The "reality"  of the story to me is what makes it different from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That one was so completely out there as to not draw me into comparisons with the original where as this one does.

I did not really enjoy the book not necessarily because of the book but more likely because I did not enjoy reading about what happens after the "happily ever after." So, I won't say that Death Comes to Pemberley was a bad book. It just wasn't a book for me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Letter to My Daughter

Title:  Letter to My Daughter
Author:  Maya Angelou
Publication Information:  Random House, Inc. 2008. 108 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book while browsing through the ebooks in the online library catalog.

Favorite Quote:  "The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed."

Letter to My Daughter is a collection of short essays by Maya Angelou - bits of opinion and advice drawn from and explained using different incidents in her life. Maya Angelou gave birth to one son. Yet, this letter is to her daughter - or really daughters - each and every one of us.

The book itself is short and can easily be read in one sitting. Each essay is brief and can lend itself to a quick read here and there. A gentle, quick reminder of life lessons.

Each essay presents a glimpse into Maya Angelou's life and leaves us with a lesson for our own lives. Some of the stories are difficult - getting pregnant young, becoming a single parent, getting beat up, and more. Some are humorous like her not realizing cultural differences and walking on what would be the tablecloth at which guests would dine.

Many of anecdotes talk about mistakes she made and the lessons that derive from that. To speak in that manner and to reveal those aspects of yourself takes courage. This is the first work I have read by Maya Angelou. So, I enjoyed the lessons she presented and learning about her own life as well. This is a book I probably will re-read.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Simple Thing

Title:  A Simple Thing
Author:  Kathleen McCleary
Publication Information:  HarperCollins Publishers. 2012. 291 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a paperback uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "I like to remind myself that we all decide for ourselves whether things are bad or good. It's all how you choose to look at things."

A Simple Thing turns out to be anything but simple. Susannah Delaney decides to move to Sounder Island with her son and daughter for a year. Her husband stays behind.

Sounder Island is supposed to be a return to a simpler time - no electricity, no rush of day to day life, a life closer to nature. What she hopes is to bring her family away from the struggles and challenges of life at home - social pressures, bullying, and the rat race so to speak.

What she finds is that no matter where you go, your struggles and your thoughts come with you. A lesson that Betty who has lived on the island for fifty years has learned. The book becomes their story - a story of facing the past, overcoming fears, learning forgiveness, and finding happiness within.

I would consider this book a good beach read. A story about love, the past, and family. Not a memorable book, but not a bad way to spend the afternoon.