Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reading Log - October and November 2009

The Last Song, Nicholas Sparks

The Last Song is a coming-of-age story of a young girl, Ronnie, who has been estranged from her father for the past three years, having held him responsible for the break-up of their family. It is a story of forgiveness, compassion and love. The bittersweet end of the book, although successful in striking emotional chords in the reader (Sparks is great at this), is very predictable due to the telegraphed clues along the way. I did not find the characters, particularly Ronnie's 10-year-old brother, very believable. His thoughts, more than his words, were not those of a child, despite the author's somewhat weak attempts at giving him child-like actions.

I've been a reader of Sparks for a long time. The first of his works that I read, nine or ten years ago, was the little book, A Walk to Remember. Since then I've read a number of his other books, including The Notebook, The Guardian, The Wedding, Message in a Bottle and possibly my favorite, Three Weeks With My Brother. Some were good reads, and some not so good. I'd have to put The Last Song in the second group - not so good.

As I started reading it, I had to put the brakes on and do a little research. Was this really meant to be a book for adult readers? To me it had the feel of a book intended for the juvenile market. Apparently, though, it is considered an adult novel, but what I learned was that Sparks wrote this book after writing the screenplay for the Disney movie of the same name. (Call me clueless - I didn't even know it was a movie.) And the main character of the book, the 18-year-old Ronnie, was crafted specifically as a role for Mylie Cyrus. All of that leaves me a little cool on the book; it's just not how a good book should be born, and this cart-before-the-horse approach negatively impacted the book.

Nicholas Sparks is a good story-teller, and this is not to say I'll never read another of his books, but I am becoming a bit bored with the sameness of his plots and characters. That may be the reason my favorite of his books was Three Weeks With My Brother, which is non-fiction and markedly different.

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

Lily’s mother died of a gunshot wound when Lily was four years old. That tragic moment left her with confused memories and guilt that haunt her as she grows up, motherless, in the care of her emotionally distant and harsh father, T. Ray, and her outspoken, tobacco-chewing, kind-hearted but impatient Black nanny, Rosaleen.

The story takes place at the height of the civil rights movement, in South Carolina. A string of tumultuous events, surrounding Rosaleen’s attempt to register to vote for the very first time, results in Lily and Rosaleen running away together.

Lily and Rosaleen, through a mixture of chance and mysterious clues, find themselves at the home of the three black Boatwright sisters, August, the nurturing and wise “Mistress of Bees”; June, the somewhat aloof, educated school teacher and musician; and May, the emotionally fragile sister, who can’t distinguish other people’s sorrow from her own. Lily, who has grown up without a mother, is soon embraced by a house full of mother figures.

The symbolism that the author draws from June’s bee colonies is rich, and seeps into the words and thoughts as sweetly as the thick, amber honey that Lily and the sisters harvest and seal in glass jars. Sisterhood, guilt, forgiveness, the “black Madonna,” love, nurture, death and grief are themes that hold the story together.

I loved reading The Secret Life of Bees, and would recommend it to friends.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

This was the second book I've read by Hosseini, the first being The Kite Runner. Both of these books are tales of Afghanistan and the turmoil and suffering caused by religious and political factions in this war-torn nation, over the past half-century. But what makes his stories have the impact that they do on the reader is that these are not stories of the nation so much as stories of individuals trapped in the chaos of the nation's war-torn history.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two women, one born in 1959, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Afghan; and the second born, a generation later, into a simple but loving home, where she was encouraged to become educated and reach for the stars, despite the social and religious prohibitions on women in her country. These two women's lives become intertwined as they both suffer through life-and-death situations and turn their original hostility toward each other into a loving mother-daughter type of relationship.

Hosseini is a talented author, and I highly recommend both books - The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

The Blessing Way, Tony Hillerman

Attending the Hillerman evening, this month, prompted me to begin reading his Leaphorn/Chee mystery series - maybe from start to finish. This month I read the first in the series, The Blessing Way.

In this story, we meet, for the first time, Lt. Joe Leaphorn, as he stalks a killer, believed by the Navajos to be a "Wolf-Witch." Caught in the middle of this chase are Ellen Leon, who has come to the desert to meet up with her fiance, to tell him something important; and Albuquerque professor, Bergen McKee, who has come to continue his research on Navajo witch lore.

In The Blessing Way, Hillerman does a good job of building tension in the reader and of delivering interesting glimpses into Navajo traditions and beliefs.


Patty said...

Be sure to put THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett on your reading list.

Linda said...

Thanks for that tip, Patty. I'll do it.