Book Review · Bust · Favorite Authors · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

in the midst of winterI can still remember reading Eva Luna in high school, buried deep under the covers and reading through the night.  Amazed that a single book could create a world so enchanting and enthralling that it literally wrapped around you in the night, I threw myself into the depths of Isabel Allende’s works; The House of the Spirits, The Stories of Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, Zorro, Ines of My Soul, Island Beneath the Sea.  For years my gypsy life consisted of moving every 6 months, and lugging around a heavy box of books filled with Allende’s works.  For me, Allende is the epitome of an author- she is the Shakespeare to my soul.  It had been several years since I’d lost myself in her world, so when In The Midst of Winter was plopped right into my hands at the library, it was like coming home.

Unfortunately, In the Midst of Winter was probably one of the worst books I’ve read in a while.  All of Allende’s trademark beautiful writing was present.  The wild women, the unlikely pairings, the incredible character development.  Missing, however, was the depth and breadth of the characters relationships with each other, the passion for life and love, and a story so hauntingly beautiful it sticks to your brain like a spiderweb.

While Allende explored the oft ignored middle ages of life and love, the effortless weaving of plausibility and magic that is key in her previous novels was missing from this story.  Richard, Lucia and Evelyn are all written with passion and a deep back story but the circumstances that bring them together are incredibly lackluster and strange.

The story uniting them left me irritated in its lack of reality, lack of depth and the lack of personal relationships developing between the characters.  At no point did I feel like Richard and Lucia were a likely or even possible romantic couple.  At no point could I feel the love or compassion Lucia had for Evelyn.  And while I enjoyed reading the individual chapters narrated by each character and thoroughly interested in the political history of Brazil, I found myself skimming the chapters devoted to the mishaps of this unlikely trio.

For a career spanning over 30 years, Allende was bound to publish a flop at some point.  It’s just hard to imagine In The Midst of Winter being written by a veteran author who penned something as magical as The House of the Spirits as her first novel.

In my devotion to Allende, I immediately checked out “The Japanese Lover” from the library, hoping to ease the disappointment of In the Midst of Winter with what I hope is a novel more aligned with Allende’s previous works.

Until next time my friends.

Happy Reading!

-R

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker

Before We Were Yours Part 2

After a few weeks away, I’m finally finding a spare moment to finish writing about “Before We Were Yours”.  After finishing the entire book, the main conclusion was that while the story was absolutely amazing it felt like I had just finished reading two totally separate books by two separate authors.

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Wingate chose to tell the story through three separate characters, swapping narrators with each chapter to advance the story a bit at a time.  While this technique has been super popular lately, Wingate just didn’t nail the character development, story unraveling, or developing an equal emotional response to the narrators in the way Small Great Things, Gone Girl or Girl on the Train did.  With those novels, each of the narrating characters was equally written and developed.  It was easy to find yourself immersed completely in the thoughts and worlds of each of the narrating characters.  As mentioned in my last postBefore We We Yours felt incredibly unequal, almost like the chapters were written by different authors of very different caliber and then shuffled into place.  

As a HUGE fan of historical fiction, I felt like Wingate would have written a significantly more powerful novel if she had unraveled it bit by bit in a more traditional story telling format.  I would have even loved it if she’d stuck with alternating chapter narrations by Rills and May.  Avery was by far the least developed character, the least engaging narrator, and essentially existed as a quick device to move the story out of deeper depths.  Anytime something exciting was about to happen or some great secret was about to be revealed, the chapter ended and Wingate cut to some superficial plot line for Avery that meandered loosely back to Rills or May without ever returning to the big revelation about to be disclosed by Rills or May.  There were quite a few ambiguities and plot holes that ended up being written into this story which would not fly if Avery hadn’t been tossed in there to distract us with reminders of her privileged upbringing, prestigious pedigree and Ivy League education.

Overall, I ended up glossing through the pages narrated by Avery, and sinking my heart into the narrations by Rills and May, which tells you how necessary Avery wasn’t to the overall plot line.  I also would have appreciated more closure and finality for some of the characters who seem to ghost out of the story and are never mentioned again.  Final verdict?  5 stars for the chapters narrated by Rills and May.  1.5 stars for the chapters narrated by Avery.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Book Review · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Historical Fiction · tear jerker · thoughts

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

51P7QgQ0DjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Y’all…I did it again.  Went to bed w/ a new book at 8:30pm fully anticipating an hour, maybe hour and a half of reading and a reasonable bed time….and ended up reading until 1am.  Sigh…I’m so energetically sleepy it’s weird.  This must be how toddlers feel when their eyes are half closed but their body is happy dancing at top speed.  While delicious, this Green Tea is doing nothing for me.

So, during a book chat last week, a friend linked me to the Amazon Top 20 Chart last week, where I scrolled through the list looking for some new reading material.  I was surprised to find 7 Harry Potter books on the list along with the The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s interesting to see so much Harry Potter on the list.  I remember seeing the first few books lined up together for the very first time on the library shelf like 15 or 20 years ago and thinking “holy shit, those things are HUGE”.  It’s such a strong memory, that to this day I can tell you the exact shelf and location of those books.  Weird memories aside, it’s amazing they’ve remained so popular and have really become such a normal part of the cultural sphere.  Ready Player One was also an unexpected find, but all of the movie hype has probably got this one ranking high in the charts in anticipation. Like The Martian, Ready Player One has only one real main character in the entire book.  I’m interested to see how that translates into a movie.

Having read 9 of the 20 books on this list, I started combing the library for the other 11.  Origins by Dan Brown had an 86 person wait list (what-the-what?!?!) but “Before We Were Yours” was available.  This book has been on the Amazon Top 20 for 25 weeks now, and after getting so caught up in the web Wingate has weaved, it’s easy to see why.

“Before We Were Yours” is a historical fiction based on the notorious Georgia Tann of the Tennesee Children’s Home Society.  From 1920-1950, Tann lied, schemed, plotted, and outright kidnapped the babies and children of America’s poor working class, often taking advantage of young single mothers as she procured children for her black-market baby adoption agency.  Most alarmingly, Tann had the support and cooperation of Memphis government officials, who not only knew but enabled her heinous crimes against families and children to continue for decades.

The book is written in a multiple person format, which did take some getting used to at first, particularly as the switch between characters could be jarring at times between chapters.  Interestingly enough, the story as told by Avery Stafford is stylistically written very differently than the story as told by Rill Foss and May Crandall .  It’s almost like reading two different books.  So far, I have preferred the voice and narration of Rill and May.  These characters feel very real and very grounded to me, like the author based them on someone she knew well.  The story swells and builds around Rill and May, until your heart clenches and you’re holding your breath with each page turn.

Avery, on the other hand, comes across with every stereotypical rich white-girl cliche the author could come up with.  She’s from a wealthy Southern family whose roots run deep into the political sphere.  She went to Colombia law school where she worked hard to distinguish herself from her own last name and is now a federal prosector.  The lawyer thing comes up frequently in Avery’s self monologues, like she’s reminding us over and over that she is smart and capable.  She grew up owning/riding horses and spending time with Grandma at the family beach house.    Her Daddy is an upstanding honorable man who just so happens to be a US Senator while her mother is the stereotypical overbearing Southern Belle of a Stepford wife whose organizational prowess, social standing and charity work are a force to be reckoned with.  While big things loom around her, Avery’s biggest concerns in life are missing her fiancee’s calls and dodging conversations about her wedding plans.

I’m about 75% done with the book and have been reading through Avery’s narration in anticipation of Rill’s and May’s chapters.  Looking forward to what the conclusion brings!

Happy reading,

Cheers!

 

Books to Movies · dystopian · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale is big in my circle right now, with some reading the book and some watching the Hulu series.

The common consensus: alarming, relevant, shocking.

With the popularity of dystopian tales in recent cinema, it’s surprising The Handmaid’s Tale hadn’t popped up before now.  It’s the perfect blend of religious fanaticism and government gone bad to control man-made environmental and population crisis.  Think Divergent meets 1984 meets The Third Reich and you’ve got The Handmaid’s Tale.

A long beach weekend allowed me to dig into Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian world.  With every page, my bathing suit and bare legs became increasingly apparent as I sunk further and further into the bleak Republic of Gilead and thick red habits.

In Offred, Atwood creates a character so devastatingly traumatized by what has happened to her, that she seems almost flippant in her mannerisms and attitude.  To deal with the complete shock and sensory deprivation of being a handmaid, whose sole responsibility is to procreate for The Wives (rich infertile women), Offred halting and delicately brings forth controlled memories of her previous life and loved ones, always careful to keep herself from stepping too far into herself.

Her understanding of the situation in Gilead, the toxicity of the land, the population decline caused by an epidemic of infertility, the suspension of the Constitution, the religious upheaval, The Sons of Jacob, The Eyes, The Aunts…all are brought forth piece meal, placed randomly within memories, leaving the reader to sort and piece the history of Gilead together as Offred quickly buries and escapes the pain and disappointment of a past reality for the pain and disappointment of the present reality.

Offred’s utter helplessness and the very last shreds of self holding onto sanity tunneled a giant hole right through my chest and I often found it hard to breathe while reading.

Like any book of this popularity, the Amazon reviews are off the charts.  Many of the one and two star reviews claim Atwood’s novel is too slow, too boring, too un-relatable.  The five star reviews tend to treat this book like a cautionary tale, similar to “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.  For me, this book served as a mirror, a perfect piece for self reflection.  Since reading, I’ve found myself mulling over what it means to be a woman, the roles and responsibilities, the parts and pieces, the relationships, the rights, the rules, and the regulations we hold one another to.

This book left me emotionally drained, clinging to my husband’s body for stability in the night.  Reader beware, there is no happy ending to this tale.