Saturday, February 27, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

We meet Lucy Barton as she lies in a hospital bed in New York City.  She will remain there for nine long weeks, though the cause of her illness remains a mystery.   While she's in the hospital, her mother comes to visit for five days.  She never leaves Lucy's side and never sleeps.  They discuss people they knew over the years and this is how we learn who Lucy Barton really is.

Lucy grew up dirt poor, her family living on the fringes of their rural Illinois community.  Her husband had sent her mother the airplane ticket.  She had never been on an airplane before and Lucy hadn't seen her in many years. They talk about the past and look out at the Chrysler Building. Every now and then the doctor checks on her and periodically some nurses who she's given nicknames to, come to take her temperature.

The story is peppered with some talk of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's, the decade in which we first meet Lucy Barton.  First we go back to her childhood when her father locks her in his truck with a brown snake of which she's terrified.  Her brother grows into a man yet is still reading Little House on the Prairie books. The reader is never given any explanation for why theses event are important.  We see snippets of Lucy's marriage and her children.  Then we skip to her quest to become a writer after her illness. And when her mother goes home, her life moves on.

I loved Olive Kitterridge but I just couldn't wrap my head around Lucy Barton.  I got more out of the advice she received from another writer, than I got from reading her story.  I just couldn't find much about Lucy to like, I found her kind of blah.  With that being said, Olive Kitteridge wasn't a likable character either but she was tough, funny and feisty.  And it's not to say, My Name is Lucy Barton is not a well written novel, but Lucy couldn't grab my attention.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

In my quest to become well read, I've become hooked on a PBS show called "Well Read".  The hosts are bookworms who know just the right questions to ask the authors appearing on the show.  Each week features one author who has released a new book and then we are treated to a list of similar books that a reader would find comparable.

Sarah Vowell discussed her new book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. While Lafayette is an interesting character, when she mentioned Lincoln and Garfield in Assassination Vacation, my fascination peaked. Since I was unfamiliar with Ms. Vowell's work, a book on a topic I was interested in seemed like a good place to start.

Sarah is a history buff and her research is flawless.  She vacations at all kinds of remote spots and hideaways where long forgotten bits of history have happened.  And she drags her friends, twin sister and 3 year old nephew, Owen, along with her.  They all seem to understand this quirky side of her and happily investigate with her.  We are lead down dark trails and city sidewalks in search of the plaque that marks the historical spot.  I never knew we were a nation of so many plaques.  I'll pay more attention to them next time.

The tales of assassinations of our presidents are told in a funny, sarcastic and entertaining way.  I learned so much by reading Sarah's version.  Fifty percent of this book was dedicated to the story of Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Dr. Mudd and the people surrounding them. I enjoyed that but I was really looking forward to learning about Garfield. Sarah didn't devote as many pages to Garfield much to my disappointment. I'm kind of a freak about Cleveland and Lakeview Cemetery where he's entombed.  I visited it on my vacation.

Assassination Vacation is a great way to learn about the rich and diverse history of the United States.   Sarah puts her own personal spin on what can be dry and dull.  Laughter is not only the best medicine but can also be the best teacher.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I don't think I've read an Agatha Christie novel since high school and that was a very long time ago.  So I have to say thank you to Lori, the librarian for selecting this for book club.  It's fun to get nostalgic while trying to solve a murder on a train.

The Orient Express is suddenly stopped by snow on the tracks shortly after midnight.  The following morning a man is found dead in his compartment, stabbed multiple times.  M. Hercule Poirot is on board and is asked to put his skills to work to solve the case.  The train is unusually full for the time of year so he has a lot of ground to cover.  The possible suspects are many and none are exempt from scrutiny.

Murder on the Orient Express is charming. The story flows smoothly and effortlessly page after page. The cast of characters represent the class structure of the times, and are rich with personality and suspicion.  And what's not to love about M. Poirot with his calculating mind and his direct, yet subtle line of questioning.

I loved this book. What a refreshing change of pace!  A good old fashioned murder mystery was the perfect distraction to a modern life.  Agatha Christie is a master.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

In my quest to become well read, I decided I should read one of the most talked about and controversial books in modern literature, Lolita.  I was well aware of the premise of the novel, but had no idea what to expect or why the book is held in such high esteem.

Humbert Humbert is a pedophile.  Plain and simple.  But this story takes the reader so far inside his head that we can almost justify his actions the same way any criminal and mental disturbed person would.  An unfulfilled love affair as a young teenage boy has left Humbert obsessed with what he refers to as a nymphet, a young, prepubescent girl.  He searches high and low for one that suits him until he lays eyes on Dolores Haze, his Lolita.

Humbert marries Lolita's mother to remain close to her.  While Lolita is away at summer camp, Charlotte is hit by a car and dies.  From there on out, Humbert passes himself off as Lolita's father and takes her on a road trip across the United States. He plots out a complicated scheme to seduce Lolita, only to find she is already sexually experienced.

I found this book funny, absurd, and distasteful all at the same time.   The prose is delightful and engaging.  For the most part it was a page turner, but I felt it dragged on in some parts.  But when it was funny, it was laugh out loud funny.  And when it was disgusting, it turned my stomach.  Lolita has all the makings of a classic novel, with wonderful writing full of emotion. And I'm feeling a little more well read.  

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...