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Irresistible [ir-i-zis-tuh-buhl] adj. – Third Place Books’s used book sale

40% off every used book on the floor.

Less than $3 each.  I’ve actually been saving space on my bookshelf for these three.  My Michael Newton library is complete!  I’m close on Brian Weiss, too.

I’ve been curious about The Ranger’s Apprentice after a school year of checking it out to fourth- and fifth-graders.  The other three are middle grade/young adult historical fiction.

J’adore the historical fiction, you know.

That I kept it to seven books and $20 shows remarkable restraint, I believe.  That the sale is now over and keeping me from returning and doing similar damage tomorrow is probably a very good thing.

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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, 2003)
I read it April 21, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

Book Club.  100% book club.  After freaking out over the previews to the movie (I don’t DO scary movies. Or books.), I wrote the book off.  When it was assigned for book club, one of the gals said, “Trust me.  It’s great.”  Book club is tonight, so I took a deep breath and cracked it open yesterday.

What I Thought

It’s great.  (Whoa.  Deja vu.)  I couldn’t put it down.  It was a quick read.  (Even for me – I read it in less than four hours.)

What appears to be a frightening psychological thriller in the movie previews turns out to be a brilliant psychological thriller in print.

I’m struggling with how to describe my thoughts on the book without giving anything away, so I think I’m going to stay away from the plot altogether.  Just take my word for it – good stuff.  Let’s focus on the writing.  Lehane has a gift with words, with imagery.  Line after line jumped out at me as perfect visual descriptors.  I don’t know the last time I read a book where the physical scene was set so perfectly in my mind.  I found nearly every character to be sympathetic, even as I was questioning who was good and bad, who was right and wrong.  The ending wasn’t entirely predictable…I thought I’d figured parts of it out, but it was an ‘Ooh!  I was right!’, rather than a ‘Yawn, saw that one coming a mile away’ reaction.

Favorite Lines

I’d have to type about half of the book here…which is time-consuming and likely illegal.

Would I Recommend It?

Yes.  But bear in mind that it deals with some heavy stuff, including disturbing murder scenes and the criminally insane.  I’m still not going anywhere near the movie.

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The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
I read it in March, 2010

Why’d I Read It?

I found it at the thrift store last summer, on sale for 50 cents, and I’d heard good things about it from several friends.

What I Thought

I was blown away.  Susie’s story gripped my from the first three sentences and never let me go.  It was disturbing, but not overly so, and beautiful.  The family’s reactions, both in the short-term after the murder, and in the ensuing years, were realistic, well-handled, and striking.

The supernatural elements – Susie’s Heaven, her “relationship” with Ruth – those helped, too.  I love when authors play with elements of life beyond life.

If I have to pick something to criticize, it would be that Susie’s voice is a smidge too old, too advanced for a girl her age.  It works, though, and I think it would’ve been a much less accomplished story without padding her maturity with an extra year or two.

Favorite Lines

I was much too enthralled to keep track while I was reading, but one line stuck out for me (probably because I’m in an state of Extreme Puppy Want these days):

“Riches in furry packages.  Dogs.”  Perfect summation of people’s best friends.

Would I Recommend It?

Definitely.

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Girl In Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (Penguin, 2000).
I read it in March, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

If you’ll recall, I loved Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.  When I love an author, I tend to hop on the library’s website and reserve all of their books.

What I Thought

Excellent.  As I mentioned before, I’ve read several books in the “story behind a painting” genre, and I love them.  This one took a different approach, however, working backwards through the painting’s various owners over the centuries until arriving at the time of its creation.  This journey through the painting’s provenance is a unique (at least in my experience) way to look at and appreciate the different effects art can have on people.

I kept wondering if the author would bring us back to the original characters in the story…specifically, the narrator of the first chapter.  Whether she did or didn’t (I hate ruining endings), I found myself very pleased with the outcome.

Favorite Lines

“…I came to recognize the tenacity of superstition…”

“…she heard the creak and thrum of the south windmill turning like her heart in the sea wind…”

Would I Recommend It?

Yes

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A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin, 2009)
I read it February 23, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

100% the cover art.  It caught my eye on display somewhere, and I went straight home and reserved it at the library.  I am easily taken in by good cover art…but I don’t tend to buy books unless I think I’m going to want to read them more than once.  (Our house can only hold so many bookshelves!)

What I Thought

Several times while reading, I thought to myself, “If anyone had told me what this was about, I would never have picked it up.”  It was strangely captivating.  I kept thinking that I shouldn’t like it, but I really did.

The question here is why didn’t I think I should like it?  I can’t really put my finger on it.  It’s written in a distinctly different voice than I’m used to, but I liked it (the voice).  It’s rife with dishonesty – characters pretending to be something they’re not.  In theory, that’s something that bothers me, so maybe that’s it?  I’m not sure.  I did enjoy the story and the writing; I found the whole thing compelling.

Even two weeks after reading it, I can’t quite place why I liked the book, or why I had such an odd reaction to it.  I’d have to call it an incredibly successful novel, however, if you care to measure a novel’s success by its ability to keep the reader thinking about it long after the final page is read.

Would I Recommend It?

I think so…yes.

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Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale (Avon, 1992)
I read it in February, 2010.

Why’d I Read It?

Nicola over at Alpha Heroes mentioned it while discussing another Kinsale novel, and it intrigued me.

What I Thought

Um, wow.

No, really.  I went in expecting another historical romance, maybe with some particularly witty banter or something.  What I got was a historical romance with a punch of reality.  It hit home, and I sat in my chair, shaking my head and saying, “Yes, yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.”

The “it” I’m referring to blew me away.  Spoiler alert: the hero suffers what I believe to be a debilitating stroke.  What blew me away was the author’s description of the hero’s thoughts and feelings during the stroke.

I haven’t had a stroke myself, but when I was 28 weeks pregnant with Nicolas, I suffered several seizures.  Eclampsia hit me hard and fast.  What I felt during the first seizure was exactly what Kinsale describes.  (I was unconscious during the subsequent ones.)

The honest, painful struggles of the hero dealing with his recovery, and the heroine’s fight for his rights, made the book for me.  The romance itself was a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, and I found myself disappointed in the heroine for not seeing through the obvious deception that led to the wedding.  I still thoroughly enjoyed myself, though.  What’s a romance without a smidge of unbelievability, anyway?

Favorite Lines

I was too enthralled to remember my Post-It flags, but I loved the hero’s speech processing after his stroke.  Very well done.

Would I Recommend It?

Did the Waltons take way too long to say goodnight?

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Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland (Viking Penguin, 2007)
I finished it January 29, 2010.
The author’s story behind the painting of Renoir’s famous work.

Why’d I read it?

Book Club!  I got the reminder email on Monday, squeaked in dismay that I’d forgotten to read the book, and immediately reserved it at the library.  It became available Thursday morning; book club was Thursday night.  I got to page 357 and still managed to read more than anyone else in the group.  I was one of only two who were enjoying it.

What I thought

As I said above, I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it immensely, as a matter of fact.  It has so much to recommend it: art, Paris (le sigh), French cuisine, love, and beautiful language.  I didn’t know what to expect going in.  The other ladies in Book Club had said over email that they couldn’t get into it, but the rave reviews on the back of the library copy were from authors I quite like, and I’ve loved several other books of the same theme by Tracy Chevalier (The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Lady and the Unicorn).  I decided to hold my breath and jump in.

As often happens when I read a new author, it took me a few pages to get used to the voice.  By the end of Chapter One, La Vie Moderne, however, I was hooked.  The language is a bit on the flowery side, but just a bit, and it’s entirely appropriate to the feel of the story and the setting.  In my opinion, it only enhances the telling.  The characters are engaging, and Renoir’s view of the world is exactly how I imagine an artist of his talent’s to be.

Just as interesting as the story of the painting itself is the background into the ups and downs of the Impressionist movement.  I may be biased, after all the Impressionists are by far my favorite painters, but I found it fascinating.  (Note to high school French teachers everywhere: This is a much more engaging way to educate your students on French art than making them memorize artists, paintings, and birth-death dates.  I’m just saying.)

Favorite Lines

“He felt as giddy as he had as a youth the moment before touching the first breast offered to him.”

“Do you think the people on that boat are slipping through their lives without noticing how excruciatingly beautiful everything is?”

“Her moment of keenest sorrow sucked the breath out of her.”

Would I recommend it?

Obviously, that’s a big, fat Yes.  Now please excuse me while I go reserve the author’s other novels at the library…

One of the things percolating in my brain as the new year rolled around was a plan for blogging about books.  For a couple of days, I even considered starting a whole separate blog dedicated to books I’d read, planned to read, etc.  Then I realized…duh, Aimee, you have a blog – an all-encompassing blog – and books would fit in there nicely.  (Yes, I’m not always the quickest out of the starting gate.)

Before I kick this thing off, I have to say, the main reason I’ve resisted writing book reviews in the past is twofold.  First, I have no desire to write a blurb or synopsis of each book I read, and blurbs seem to be the standard way to begin when writing about books.  Second, I don’t consider myself expert enough in literature to “review” writing at all.  Edit?  Yes.  Write?  Sure.  Review?  No.

So, what’s changed?  It hit me (again, a little late), that if I don’t want to blurb or synopsize (new word) or review (in the strictest sense), who’s saying I have to?  It’s my blog, after all, and my thoughts on the books I read are as valid as the next person’s.  I can link to other people’s blurbs or synopses, and I can make my reviews whatever I want them to be!  I may not be a literary expert, but I know what I like. (So there, critical inner voice!)

And now, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I bring you the first in the series Aimee Reads:

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Not Yet Drown’d by Peg Kingman (W.W. Norton, 2007)
I read it January 6, 2010.
Read a blurb on the author’s site.  Congrats to Ms. Kingman – this is her debut novel!  You can read an interview with the author at Loaded Questions.

Why’d I read it?

It caught my eye on the library shelf and, upon further inspection, proved to be a historical fiction (yay!) partially set in Scotland (double yay!).

What I thought

The story is compelling, a mystery with an undercurrent of romance (isn’t there always?) which takes place across several distinct cultural situations: in Nineteenth-Century Edinburgh Society; aboard a passenger-carrying merchant vessel; and in India as seen from a European point of view.*  The research behind the novel was obviously extensive, covering bagpipe music, Scottish poetical debate, the opium trade, the tea trade, revolutionary steamship propulsion, Indian outcastes, and even a line-crossing ceremony aboard the merchant vessel.  (The last was particularly interesting to me, since my father experienced his own welcome to Neptune’s Domain as a young U.S. Naval officer about forty years ago, and it was fun to compare and contrast the two.)

The characters and their relationships were enjoyable.  I liked the portrayal of Catherine and Hector’s relationship immensely.  There was just enough sniping to remind us that they were siblings.  I also enjoyed the forays into Sharada’s point of view, and I would have liked to see more from Annie’s.  The budding relationship between Catherine and Mr. Flemming didn’t hold my interest; it almost seemed an afterthought.

The language in Not Yet Drown’d took some getting used to.  While the author created beautiful imagery, some of it was almost flowery, and a few times I was struck with the thought that five words were used where one or two might’ve done.  (I don’t suppose I have much room to complain in this regard, as it’s something I’m quite guilty of.)  Nevertheless, I grew used to the language after a couple of chapters and soon lost myself in the storytelling, although I’ll admit to having skimmed quite a few of the more drawn-out passages regarding steamship propulsion, as well as some areas where the author recounted a lot more detail than was necessary for the telling of the story.  (I’m not alone in this, as some of the characters themselves often tuned out their shipmates’ ramblings!)  The overall conclusion of the book was somewhat predictable, but the extensive path taken to get there was not.

Favorite Lines

“Mr. Clerk’s ballroom was like the inside of a headache.”  Lovely!

“Profits have a way of illuminating matters.”

Would I recommend it?

Yes!

*I make this distinction, because the vision of a land under occupation/colonization varies greatly depending on the eyes of the person through which we see it.  It would seem unfair not to clarify that the India we read about here is not quite the same India experienced by her native people.

Over the past two days, I finally read Twilight.  After months of seeing Flair and other Facebook tributes, as well as – more recently – trailers for the upcoming film, my name finally came to the top of the library’s waiting list.  Honestly, what really intrigued me was the continual comparison of the Twilight series with the Harry Potter series.  So much comparison, in fact, that it’s rumored that the sixth Harry Potter film’s release was postponed until next year for the sole reason of not having to compete with Twilight’s theatrical release.  Plus, I enjoy well-done teen lit.

The verdict?  It’s like comparing Apples and Owls.

On one hand, you have the apple.  It’s shiny and beautiful, and underneath the skin is the crisp flesh.  It’s either sweet or tart, and the juice drips down your chin as you bite into it.  The seeds inside can be planted and can lead to more fruit.  It’s a complex, living thing, and the world would be much more boring without tasty treats like apples.

On the other hand, you have the owl.  It also has flesh, but imbedded in that flesh are layers of feathers of varying, shimmering colors and a soft, irresistable texture.  Under the flesh is bone and muscle, and a circulatory system, and a nervous system, and a digestive system, and more.  The owl has five senses, and it can swoop and fly, and awe us with its majesty.

The apple is a fabulous snack.  I could eat one every day and be happy, especially if it dazzles me and shines in the sunlight.  The owl, however, can be enjoyed on a deeper level, and its higher complexity and living, breathing being-ness is more intriguing to me.  It has a voice I can listen to over and over.

I do love a good apple.  I quite enjoyed Twilight, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.  At the same time, I can’t see why anyone would put it and Harry Potter in the same sentence, much less start a teeny-bopper rivalry over the two.  Different subjects, different target audiences, different depth of plot and character, totally different voices.

Reading is one of the most wonderfully simple joys in my life.

Here is another.

New books from the book fair

New books from the book fair

I was talking with j. today about reading.  Sort of.  It was more the English/Language Arts class expectations in regards to reading.  For me, a book is enjoyable.  Or it’s not.  I am a voracious reader, but I’ve missed most of the classics.  Pondering this, I believe it’s because my memory of reading “the classics” is tied with a very strong cord to papers written, handed in, and returned with criticisms that I didn’t “get” the book.  (And, yet, my overall English grades were good, and somehow I managed to ace the AP exam…did I just happen upon a grader who “got” me?  Or did the subject of the essay play to my strengths?  How do we explain doing so well on the multiple choice portion if I didn’t fundamentally understand authorial intent?)

I despised being made to break down a piece of literature and attempt to glean what the author meant.  What was the symbolism?  The characters’ roles in the greater world?  The author’s intended impact?  I don’t know!  Can’t I just read the book, tell you what I liked (or didn’t), and move on?  I always suspected, somewhere in the back of my mind, that professors and teachers were pulling a lot of the symbolism and such from their rear ends, because – unless the author had written a study guide to go with the book (which I certainly never saw) – how were these people who lived fifty or a hundred years later determining the original intent and symbolism?

I’m still not a deep thinker when it comes to my reading, and for the past fifteen years, I’ve avoided those heavier books that remind me of the forcible picking apart of another writer’s work.  I enjoy most genres, but my two favorites are historical fiction (which, because I am a romantic and because I don’t mind a bit of a ripped bodice here and there, includes – but is by no means limited to – historical romance, with a lean towards Regency romance) and what I think of as “realism-based fantasy.”  The latter includes such books as the Harry Potter series, Nora Roberts’ trilogies that include just enough of the supernatural to be considered almost plausible, etc.  I read all of these books because I can lose myself in them.  I love it.  I adore having my nose in a book.  It’s as simple as that.

I hope my boys find the analyzation of literature easier than I did.  I want them to feel more confidence in their school papers.  On the other hand, I don’t want them to lose sight of enjoying a book simply for its story.  That’s where they are now…a place I’ve never been willing to leave.  I’d be okay if they stuck a toe out now and then, though.  You know, just to write a profoundly insightful essay or two.

My boys

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