July/August 2009 Reviews

You may enter your July/August '09 reviews here if you don't contribute to the blog (or even if you do).

1. Steven (Kafka on the Shore)
2. Steven (The Human Stain)
3. Alyce (The Giver)
4. Becky (Old Man's War)
5. Becky (To Be A Slave)
6. Elizabeth (A Good House)
7. Laura (Home)
8. Steven (De Niro's Game)
9. K (Graceling)
10. K (The White Tiger)
11. K (To Kill a Mockingbird)
12. Steven (Neuromancer)
13. Matt (Possession)
14. Matt (Fox Hunting Man)
15. K (A Dirty Job)
16. Matt (The Chill)
17. TGGM (The Strain)
18. Matt (The Waiting Years)
19. Matt (One of Ours)
20. Mee (Middlesex)
21. Matt (Arctic Dreams)
22. Still Alice
23. Tricia (These is My Words)
24. Tricia (When You Reach Me)
25. Tricia (The Education of Little Tree)
26. Tricia (The Lincolns)
27. Kimmie (The Book of Ruth)
28. Mee (Burnt Shadows)
29. Mee (Snakes and Earrings)
30. Steven (The Known World)
31. Alyce (Half of a Yellow Sun)
32. Alyce (Outlander)

Laura's Review - Home

Marilynne Robinson
325 pages

At 38 years old, Glory Boughton has returned to Gilead, Iowa to care for her aging father, the Reverend Robert Boughton. Boughton is a retired Presbyterian minister, and a good friend of the Congregationalist minister, John Ames (the main character in Robinson's Pulitzer-winning book, Gilead). Glory is recovering from a failed relationship and is simultaneously resentful of and thankful for her new routine. One day, her older brother Jack comes back into her life after 20 years away from the family. Jack had a troubled youth in Gilead, and his years away not been much better. He has been in jail, he has an alcohol problem, and there is a lingering issue regarding his relationship with a woman named Della.

It's not clear just why Jack decided to return to Gilead, but both Glory and his father decide to give him a chance. The story moves along at a leisurely pace, much like a lazy summer day. Jack finds much-needed stability, tending to the garden and minor repairs around the house. Glory finds companionship, love, and understanding that she didn't think possible from Jack. And yet, Jack's demons never completely leave him. His status with Della is uncertain. While he achieves a kind of reconciliation with his father, tensions do flare from time to time as Robert is unable to completely let go of past hurts. Jack's relationship with John Ames is also tenuous. Eventually, Jack takes the only reasonable action to alleviate his pain, although as the reader we know it will never really go away.

This is a sad, moving, and yet also surprisingly uplifting book of family relationships, redemption, and grace. Highly recommended. ( )

My original review can be found here.
Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Strout
270 pages

Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel centers around Olive and Henry Kitteridge, an older couple living in a small town in Maine, grappling with aging and the changes in the world around them. Good friends have died; young people are a mystery. Their son Christopher has married and moved away. The novel is actually a baker's dozen of short stories, each featuring Olive in some way. Sometimes the story is all about Olive; at other times she is but a passing figure seen on the stairs or on a balcony, or a casual observer of another's life story.

Olive is a former middle school math teacher both feared and respected by her students. She's a large woman, grown even more so in her sixties and seventies. She has difficulty showing her emotions, keeping her son's estrangement to herself rather than sharing this grief with friends. She can also be a bit brusque and abrasive. But despite this I couldn't help liking Olive. The stories flow chronologically through Olive's later years. I found a few especially memorable:
  • Pharmacy: This is the first story, and introduces Olive and Henry and is also the only story focused primarily on Henry's thoughts and feelings. The reader meets Olive first from Henry's point of view.
  • Starving: An amazing story of Harmon, who is in a lifeless marriage with Bonnie and befriends another woman named Daisy. She helps him discover himself, and he takes a significant decision in hopes of happiness, but the story ends a bit unresolved.
  • A Different Road: A traumatic incident disrupts Olive and Henry's peaceful lives and has a lasting impact.
  • Security: Olive visits her newly-married son after a long time apart. They have difficulty relating to one another as adults and this further strains their relationship.
While each of these stories can stand on its own, this book is wonderful when read cover-to-cover, as a novel. Full of rich characters and emotional impact, it will remain with me for some time. ( )

My original review can be found here.
The book awards challenges are a favorite of mine, and 3M is just devious enough to "raise the bar" each time, encouraging us all to rise to new heights in reading prizewinners. And I keep taking the bait ... In the original Book Awards Reading Challenge , any 12 award-winners would do, and I read Booker and Pulitzer winners like there was no tomorrow. For Book Awards II , 3M expected us to read 10 books representing 5 different awards. Well, OK, still plenty of options there , and plenty of room for overlap with long-term challenges.

Book Awards III is a shorter challenge than the first two, but this time we must read 5 books from 5 different awards. This required a bit of thinking, but I found some books in my reading plan and on my shelves that fit the bill:

1. Home, by Marilynne Robinson (Orange Prize) - review
2. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (Pulitzer Prize) - review
3. The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler (Edgar Award)
4. Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee (Booker Prize, Commonwealth Writers' Prize)
5. 2009 Booker Prize winner (Booker Prize)