Charming Billy - J's Review

Billy Lynch, alcoholic, romantic, kind and loving man, has died. His friends and family come together to comfort his widow, and to celebrate his life. And Billy's life seems to have two stories to it. The sad story of his alcoholism, which his friends and family tried again and again to guide him away from, with no success. And the sad story of his first love, an Irish girl whom he intended to marry, but who goes back to Ireland and dies. At least, that's what Billy is told. The truth is, she took the money he sent her for her passage to America, bought a gas station in Ireland, married someone else, and built a life for herself there.

This cruel twist comes pretty early on in the book, and the rest of the story is the meandering tale of his romance with the Irish girl, his grief at her 'death', his marriage to Maeve and their life together. Her suffering through his alcoholism, her reliance on his cousin, Dennis, to help her when he comes home drunk at 3am, night after night after night.

The story is told by Dennis' daughter, sometimes as told to her by her father, sometimes as though she is telling the story to her husband. I found the point-of-view narration a bit confusing, and somewhat irritating. Sometimes the narration would change within a single paragraph from first to third person. The language is often lovely, and the author captures the way that people talk, the honestly of their voices and grief, their delight in gossip, but desire to protect Maeve from that same gossip. Mostly though, I just wanted to shake Billy and tell him to stop drinking so much, get over his youthful romance, and see if living for today, with the life he has made for himself, might actually be more rewarding than pining away for someone long gone, and trying to drink yourself into an early grave. I wish I had enjoyed this book more than I did. Has anyone else read this book? Agree or disagree with me on my summation? I'd love to hear from someone who loved it, and find out what you got out of it that I missed.

Charming Billy is a National Book Award winner.

Laura's Review - The Conservationist

The Conservationist
Nadine Gordimer
267 pages

The Conservationist is an in-depth character study of Mehring, a South African businessman-cum-farmer. His success in industry provided the means to buy a 400-acre farm, which serves primarily as a tax write-off. In his quest for material success, Mehring has lost his wife and a mistress. His teenage son attends school some distance away, and has become increasingly independent -- estranged, perhaps -- from his father. Mehring mistakenly views interaction with the black laborers on his farm as a meaningful relationship. In reality, the South African class structure ensures their relationship remains distant.

I found Mehring to be a fairly despicable and pathetic character, which I believe was Gordimer's intent. He is a philanderer, at one point fondling a young lady he'd never met for the better part of a long-haul flight. Yech. And while at times he seems to appreciate the natural beauty of his farm, he has no one to share it with him. His time spent at the farm is empty, a way to pass the weekend or to hide from social obligations.

This was a difficult book to read because the main character was so unlikeable, and it revolved much more around character than plot. However, Gordimer writes some pretty amazing, descriptive prose that brought the South African scenery to life. Despite my rather lukewarm reaction to this particular novel, I will definitely be reading more of her work. ( )

My original review can be found here.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

An Epic

"Taking us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the present, The Kite Runner is the unforgettable and beautifully told story of the friendship between two boys growing up in Kabul. Raised in the same household and sharing the same wet nurse, Amir and Hassan grow up in different worlds: Amir is the son of a prominent and wealthy man, while Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant, is a Hazara -- a shunned ethnic minority. Their intertwined lives, and their fates, reflect the eventual tragedy of the world around them. When Amir and his father flee the country for a new life in California, Amir thinks that he has escaped his past. And yet he cannot leave the memory of Hassan behind him." The Kite Runner Unabridged Audio Book (Back Cover)

Told in breath taking prose, this is an epic story of family, friendship, and redemption. Hosseini gives us a good sense of what Afghanistan was like both pre and post Taliban, the good, the bad, and the devastating.

Khaled Hosseini was the reader of this audio book. At first his reading seemed a bit choppy to me however within the first few chapters he spoke pitch perfect. I felt as if I was right there, in the story.

I saw the movie version first, which I liked a lot. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and see it. However, the even better treat, is this book! Highly recommended. I am looking forward to reading A Thousand Splendid Suns!


Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark
Charlaine Harris

Finally I finished a book in just one sitting!

And it's the first in Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series with Sookie Stackhouse as the lead character. The book that started it all for Alan Ball thereafter deciding to adapt it to the small screen. Yes, this is the first book in the series that gave birth to HBO's True Blood.

Sookie Stackhouse is a telepathic waitress in a bar called Merlotte's, in a fictional town called Bon Temps located in Louisiana. In Sookie's world vampires just came out of the coffin (literally) after the development of a synthetic blood for them to drink instead of eh, human blood. Sookie's been waiting for a vampire to show up in Merlotte's. And when a vampire did show, her world turned upside down.

The vampire in question is handsome, enigmatic Bill. Yes, Bill. A normal name. Not as imaginative as Lestat or as romantic as Armand. Bill Compton, a true son of Bon Temps. He served in the Civil War before he became a vampire. Sigh.

For Sookie who had to control herself and put up mental shield not to hear the thoughts of the people around her, the presence of Bill is comforting. She can't hear his thoughts at all! And amazingly enough, she's not affected by his glamor.

So yes, it's partly a love story, partly romance. Yes, it's between a vampire and a human.

It's also a mystery. Women are being killed in Bon Temps and the murderer is on the loose. Two of them are known to have been intimate with a vampire due to bite marks. And Sookie's brother Jason is a major suspect because of his previous relationships with them. Until Sookie's beloved grandmother became a victim as well. People are now suspicious of the vampire mainstreaming with them.


It's a quick enough read. Enjoyable as well. Just the right combination of humor and horror. Enough to take you away from everyday life for the couple or so hours to read it.

I picked it up because I've seen a handful of episodes of True Blood. The advantage to seeing the adaptation first is that now I read the words with the Southern accent in mind. Hahaha. The disadvantage is that I know now where the series deviated from the book, so to speak. Plus, I also know the killer. I've no idea if the show will retain that ending though, hahaha.

I already mentioned that I like watching True Blood. Here's Sookie and Bill played by Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer.

But the tv series is more graphic. Well, tv is a visual medium so what else do I expect, particularly from a cable channel at that. And I already mentioned that there are changes from the book itself which is understandable. The show amplifies certain characters that make them more interesting, more layered than the handful of lines afforded them in the book. Plus the additional storylines are apt for a one hour show that combines supernatural mystery with a love angle.

I do love the fact that the show retained the tone of the book. So there are moments while watching the show that I have to just laugh at the dialogue. I treasure those moments in the book as well.

Allow me a moment of shallowness by adding that I love the cover. The cartoony drawing of Sookie and the vampire is fun. Plus it's glittery. Ok, moment of shallowness over.

I'm actually reading the second book now. Tsk tsk tsk. What will happen to me after the 12-episode season is over and I finished the rest of the books as well? Tsk tsk tsk.

Dead Until Dark won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original in 2001.

The Line Painter by Claire Cameron

Pages: 232
First Published: 2007
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 4/5
Award: Northern Lit Award

First sentence:

I turned off the car and sat still.

Comments: This is a very difficult book to summarize as it is best to go into this book with only the knowledge that the book flaps give. Carrie's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, way up in Northern Ontario. It is the middle of the night and her cell phone is getting a very small, off and on, signal. As anyone who knows Northern Ontario at night there is nothing but thick forests of trees, very dark, animal sounds and no other traffic to be seen. But Carrie does see a large truck slowly coming towards her that pulls over and asks if her car is broke. The man has a menacing aura about him and at first Carrie doesn't want to get in his truck but she eventually does and discovers he is a civic worker and he is on duty, his truck paints the lines on the roads.

Much happens in this story which had a genuine feel of an old B/W classic noir film. There is a sense of suspense and an unnerving feel throughout the book but I wouldn't classify this as belonging to the suspense genre. The book is about so much more. Carrie learns a lot about herself, comes to terms with her past and knows that her future will never be the same. What starts off as a road trip for Carrie ends up becoming the life defining ride of her life.

I really enjoyed this book. The suspense kept me firmly planted on the edge of my seat and as the plot revealed itself I quickly became aware that I was getting into something more than a suspense novel. Though the reader, just like Carrie, never really knows whether her safety is in jeopardy or not. A wonderful portrait of Norther Ontario, small town rural life and the eccentric characters who populate such places. A very satisfying read.

Nicola @ Back To Books

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

What Lengths Should a Family Go to Save a Life?

Anna was conceived as a bone marrow donor for her sister Kate. Originally it was just going to be taken from the placenta but when that didn’t hold, Anna ended up being a long-term donor for Kate. By the age of 13, Anna had undergone several surgeries and transfusions. Now she is expected to donate a kidney to her sister. Now she will draw a line in the sand. She will fight this.

What length should parents and siblings’ go to save a family member’s life? What is ethical, moral, and legal? What is right for the person who has the disease? Picoult does not give us the answers but leads us through the journey of what one family, lawyers, and the courts go through. In the end, we must decide.

I like how the narrative of the story switches from character to character so that we can get inside what each person is thinking and feeling. Picoult also throws in a few twists and turns to keep the story and plot going.

Several people have recommended this book to me. I must admit I hesitated, blowing it off as "chick lit". Boy was I wrong. This story is not superficial fluff; it deals with deep ethical issues and is well written.

This is the first Jodi Picoult book I have read, but it is certainly not the last. I highly recommend My Sister’s Keeper!


The Gathering - J's Review

Two years ago, I had a letter from Earnest. He was writing to tell me that he was leaving the priesthood, though he had decided to stay with his little school in the high mountains....'I have no place left to live but in my own heart,' he wrote, meaning he would conduct his life as before, but on privately different terms.

And I thought this was the stupidest stuff I had ever heard until, sitting on a stool in the Shelbourne bar, I wondered what might happen if I just carried on as usual, told no one, changed nothing, and decided not to be married after all.

And I wondered how many people around me are living with and sleeping with and laughing with their spouses on just this basis, and I wondered how sad they were. Not very, by the looks of it. Not sad at all.
The Gathering, by Anne Enright, is the story of Veronica, and her coming to terms with the suicide of her favorite brother, Liam. It is her unenviable task to travel from Ireland to England to recover his body, and bring it home for the funeral.

Veronica is falling apart following her brother's death. In addition to her grief, she harbors a secret, or at least, she thinks she does. She is hazy on her memory of an incident during their childhood, and fears that perhaps it may have been the first step toward Liam's eventual death. Her struggle with this memory, with trying to remember what did and what did not happen, and to whom, unravels her happiness and further strains her marriage. You get the feeling that she has never been a joyous person, she is too cold and critical for that, but she did have love and happiness, which are currently overwhelmed by her sadness and her memories. She is a woman in the process of falling apart.

Veronica tells the story of her family, going back to the day her grandparents first met, coming forward to her mother's passive life, and then to that of her many brothers and sisters. She harbors both love and disdain for her mother, whose 17 pregnancies, resulting in 12 children and 5 painful miscarriages, Veronica sees as proof of her mother being unwilling to refuse her father's carnal desires. That her mother might have shared these desires never seems to cross her mind.

Already a cold person, Veronica shuts down emotionally in the period following her brother's death. She resents her husband for wanting sex so soon after the death, resents him trying to prove to her that she is still alive. After that first encounter, she refuses to come to bed any more, instead staying awake all night, every night, drinking wine and waiting for him to get up for work before she herself collapses into bed.

The title of the book, The Gathering, made me think this was going to be the story of a family coming together, and of the joys and recriminations that might come to light at such a gathering. But at least 3/4 of the book is told in her meandering way, as she travels through memories and stories, while on the way to and from England on her sad task. Only at the end do we meet her siblings, and find ourselves at a surprisingly muted event.

If I were to read this review up until this point, I would think that The Gathering isn't really worth reading, and that Veronica is a character that I would not like. But Enright's writing is so beautiful, and she is able to bring you into Veronica's mind so well that you feel sympathy for her, for what she's been through, for her upbringing. You hope for her to find peace with her family again, and joy within her marriage. The end is too ambiguous for that, and I walked away feeling someone dissatisfied.

I have seen The Gathering compared to The Dubliners, by James Joyce. One big difference is that The Gathering is a novel, while The Dubliners is a book of short stories. I've only read the most famous story in that book, The Dead, which is a story that touched me very deeply. The Gathering is similar in its prose and imagery, and in that the book seems to meander along until finally you get to the end, and it turns out that the end is what you were waiting for all along. In The Dead, however, that end is a beautiful respite, and a glimpse into love that is not jealous or unkind, despite the jealousy and unkind thoughts that were there moments before...a love that transcends this mortal world, however mortal the players. The Gathering offers no such great reward.

I would recommend this book to people who love beautiful, evocative writing. Enright is a gifted writer in this aspect. I would not recommend this book for anyone seeking an easy, quick read, as the twists and turns and dark subject matter make this a somewhat difficult read.

Rebecca - Wendy's Review

The house was a sepulchre, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection. When I thought of Manderly in my waking hours I would not be bitter. I should think of it as it might have been, could I have lived there without fear. I should remember the rose-garden in summer, and the birds that sang at dawn. Tea under the chestnut tree, and the murmur of the sea coming up to us from the lawns below. -From Rebecca, page 4-

She was in the house still as Mrs. Danvers had said, she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall. Even in the little flower-room, where her mackintosh still hung. And in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage on the beach. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs. The servants obeyed her orders still, the food we ate was the food she liked. Her favourite flowers filled the rooms. Her clothes were in the wardrobes in her room, her brushes were on the table, her shoes beneath the chair, her nightdress on her bed. Rebecca was still the mistress of Manderley. -From Rebecca, page 237-

Dapne du Maurier published her gothic novel Rebecca in 1938 to wide popularity. Set on the English coast of Cornwell sometime in the 1920s, the novel centers around the isolated estate of Manderley. A young woman meets and quickly marries Maxim de Winter, a recent widower who is apparently struggling to get over the unexpected drowning death of his first wife, Rebecca. The second Mrs. de Winter (who is never identified by her Christian name) narrates the story. When she arrives at Manderley she is confronted by the mystery surrounding Rebecca’s death. She meets Mrs. Danvers - the weird and frightening housekeeper of Manderley:

Something, in the expression of her face, gave me a feeling of unrest, and even when she had stepped back, and taken her place amongst the rest, I could see that black figure standing out alone, individual and apart, and for all her silence I knew her eye to be upon me. -From Rebecca, page 68-

As the novel progresses, the secrets of the house and its former mistress are uncovered. Moody, beautifully atmospheric and filled with tension, du Maurier’s magnificent writing immerses the reader in a dark tale of love and hatred. Rebecca’s ghost hides in the shadows and hovers in the minds of all the characters, entwined in the corridors of Manderley.

Rebecca is the definitive gothic novel where the house becomes just as much a character as Max de Winter, Mrs. Danvers, the shifty Favell, and the servants who populate its many rooms. Spooky and convincingly rendered, it is a book which enchants from beginning to end.

Harper Collins has re-published this classic novel in a 2006 volume which includes a note from the Author, an essay by du Maurier whereby she describes the real Manderley, and the original Rebecca Epilogue…all of which add insight and interest into the writing of the book.

Rebecca is one of those novels which everyone should read at some point in his or her life. Highly recommended, especially for readers who love Gothic Fiction and classic literature.

The 2007 winner of the Man Booker Prize. The story is mostly set in Ireland (Dublin) with some of the tale in Brighton and South England. Veronica Hegary is one of the nine surviving children in her family and at the start of the novel her brother Liam has just died. She dwells on the past, their life growing up and what it was like for her grandparents. It is only about half way through we learn how Liam died and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Veronica does not really love her husband any more although she cares deeply for their two daughters. She suspects he is having an affair as they are no longer sleeping together. She Spends time rewritting the past and imaging the life her grandmother Ada had with her husband Charlie and his friend Lamb Nuggent. Slowly she remembers the past and what really happened. The events she remembers help piece together the truth behind Liam's death.

I didn't really enjoy this novel. It was just too bleak and I don't think I was really in the mood to read it. The ending was slightly more uplifting with some light at the end of the tunnel which helped a little. It was well written, I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for it.

Octavian Nothing

Anderson, M.T. 2006. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1: The Pox Party.

Let's see...what can I say about Octavian Nothing. It's an award-winning book--winner of the National Book Award, winner of a Printz Honor. It's historical fiction--set in the Colonies right before the American Revolution. It's more literary than your typical teen book--it's heavy in semicolons and rich in detail.

So what is so astonishing about the life of Octavian Nothing? Many things. Many many things. For starters, he's a slave who doesn't quite realize he's a slave. He has little inkling just what he is...or who he is. Who is he? He's a human experiment. He's being studied to determine if Africans are inferior (or equal to) to Europeans. Everything about him is being observed and measured. He's been given the finest clothes, housed in a luxurious way (at least comparatively speaking), taught to play musical instruments, taught in a classical way--learned in many diverse subjects including English, French, Greek, and Latin. He is a child who had a very strange, very odd, very out-there upbringing. Who is raising him the members of the College of Lucidity. Strange men who are fascinated by science, math, philosophy, art, music, etc.

There are several events that change everything for Octavian. That turn his whole world, his whole life, his very being upside down and inside out. Through the course of the book, Octavian goes from a privileged boy who is clueless about the oppression of slavery to a full-grown man who has experienced the oppressive wrath and cruelty of his masters. A man who now longs for freedom.

Even that isn't quite a fair assessment of what this book is about...of what it has to offer readers.

I can't promise you that you'll love it...or even like it. You may, of course, respond that way. But this is a book that requires you to be engaged, to connect emotionally and intellectually with the text. It's a book that requires you to wear your thinking cap.

It's a book that I'd love to use for my Reading With Becky google group. I haven't gotten any response from that group yet whether they'd be interested. But I *do* hope that I can sway some to read it. If you're interested in reading this as a group, come and join the group (email me at my google address's make this happen :)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews