Sunday, November 30, 2008

book review: deep end of the ocean by jacquelyn mitchard

After haphazardly reading Oprah's book club selections for years, I've decided to systematically read them all, beginning with her first choice: Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. It's the story of Beth and family, including her son, Ben, who disappears at Beth's high school reunion.

It's heartbreaking, and I must admit, I was completely captivated for the first two-thirds of the book. Perhaps it's because the story truly is heartbreaking, and I pulled away from the sadness, or perhaps the story really did run out of steam, but I was heading dangerously close to lukewarm by the end. It's a big book, and a lot happens, but it also seems the story is not fully appreciated it. Granted, Jacquelyn Mitchard is a gifted writer, and I'm sure she made a conscious choice to tell the story from only two points of view, but there is a vibrant cast of supporting characters I'm still curious about.

It's definitely worth a read, and I'm eager to read more of Mitchard's books. If you would have asked me the night I sat in one spot by the fire and read three hundred pages, I would have professed a deeply gratifying love for this novel, but today, I'm more reserved with my praise.

rating: 3 stars (loved it)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

book review: access to power by robert ellis

After absolutely loving the third book Robert Ellis wrote, City of Fire, and loving his second book, The Dead Room, I finally read his debut mystery, Access to Power. While Access to Power is an entertaining political thriller, it lacks the depth of his later works. Granted, it's ten years old, and it's about political corruption and campaigning, so perhaps it's unfair to judge the book by modern standards.

If you're a fan of politics and mysteries, it's worth a read, but you must promise to read City of Fire too. It's a brilliant mystery, and I think it's the only book nomadreaderboy, his mother, grandmother, step-father and I all agree is spectacular. It's quite a feat. Our intrepid Lena Gamble is back in February 2009 in The Lost Witness, in case you weren't paying attention.

rating: 2.5 stars out of 4 (really liked it)

book review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sentence(s) worth writing down:
"It provided him with a way to structure his behavior, and a way to explain that behavior, both past and present, to himself. Perhaps fiction has, for me, served a similar purpose--what is a narrative arc if not the imposition of order on disparate events?--and perhaps it is my avid reading that has been my faith along." -Alice, on her husband's fundamentalist Christianity

My thoughts:
I've been wanting to read Curtis Sittenfeld for quite some time, and I'm so glad I finally did. As most are aware, American Wife is a fictionalization of Laura Bush's life. It's set in Wisconsin instead of Texas, which the Midwesterner in me loves even more. Several details are imagined and more are rearranged, but the crux of many characters is immensely recognizable. I admit, I don't know much about Laura Bush. I know she's a librarian, and I knew she was a Democrat until her wedding day, but I never even gave her much thought. Now I can't seem to stop thinking about the intricacies of her life.

I won't mince words; American Wife is brilliant. Sittenfeld deserves every literary accolade thrown at her, but if she doesn't win next year's National Book Award, I will be shocked and upset. Granted, I sadly don't read each book published in a year, but this book manages to make the reader think more deeply about life, love and politics. It takes away the ease of oversimplifying anything. It's filled with the perfectly cohesive, yet unexpected, joys and tragedy of life and good fiction.

It's hard to build suspense in a book the reader knows is somewhat based on a real event or person, yet because Sittenfeld manages to give depth to even the most simple-minded individuals, the why becomes more important than the what or how. She creates a depth of emotion and character even when there may not be intellectual depth.

American Wife is a book I'll buy more than one copy of because I want to reread it yearly, and I want to always have a spare copy to loan to friends. I'm begging all of you to read this book. As an interesting side note, I started this book before our recent presidential election, but I finished it in the days after. Surprisingly, I appreciated it even more after Obama's victory.

Rating: 6 stars out of 5 (it's so good, my chart doesn't even go up this high)/ridiculously recommended

Sunday, November 16, 2008

reading challenges

I've recently discovered reading challenges online. They're not new, but I'm late to hop on the bandwagon. I'm trying to resist the temptation to join too many, as I hardly need help with reading goals. There are two I'm signing on for, however: What's In a Name? and Support Your Local Library. The rules are simple: follow the guidelines of the challenge, post reviews of the books you read along the way, and enjoy yourself. I believe some prizes are awarded along the way too.

What's In a Name deals with words in book titles. You must read a total of six books, one each with a title word that is (1)profession, (2)time of day, (3)relative, (4)body part, (5)building, (6)medical condition. I'm curious to see how little I may have to plan for this challenge.

Support Your Local Library offers three options: read 12, 25 or 50 books from the library in 2009. Given my short reading list this year, I'm opting for 25 and hoping for 50.

I've also been slowly working my way through my own perpetual, unofficial reading challenges: Pulitzer Prize fiction nominees and winners, Booker Prize nominees and winners, National Book Award fiction nominees and winners, Oprah books, EW's 100 New Classics & EW's Memoir List. I hope I don't get to the point when my reading related activities and planning take more time than reading itself.