Month: May 2011

My Thoughts On Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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This book won a Pulitzer Prize, and I really liked it. When I could sneak in a quiet moment, I ran to get this book. I even woke up early one morning so I could finish a chapter before my kids woke up.

The individual stories of the citizens of this little town were so well written. Each chapter, each story had a voice. Each story had pieces that struck a true voice, and I found bits and pieces of my life in this book. And the intensity was so subtle — you finish some chapters and wonder, ‘did that just happen? is she really going to do THAT?’ I loved it.

That said, I absolutely could not recommend this book because Elizabeth Strout swears like a sailor. It’s not just the ‘f’ word, though it certainly makes its appearance again and again. The ‘c’ word also is used several times, and it is absolutely not necessary, and I know many people would be offended by it.

What I’m Reading Now: Olive Kitteridge

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Thirteen linked tales from Strout (Abide with Me, etc.) present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection.

The opening Pharmacy focuses on terse, dry junior high-school teacher Olive Kitteridge and her gregarious pharmacist husband, Henry, both of whom have survived the loss of a psychologically damaged parent, and both of whom suffer painful attractions to co-workers.

Their son, Christopher, takes center stage in A Little Burst, which describes his wedding in humorous, somewhat disturbing detail, and in Security, where Olive, in her 70s, visits Christopher and his family in New York.

Strout’s fiction showcases her ability to reveal through familiar details—the mother-of-the-groom’s wedding dress, a grandmother’s disapproving observations of how her grandchildren are raised—the seeds of tragedy.

Themes of suicide, depression, bad communication, aging and love, run through these stories, none more vivid or touching than Incoming Tide, where Olive chats with former student Kevin Coulson as they watch waitress Patty Howe by the seashore, all three struggling with their own misgivings about life.

Like this story, the collection is easy to read and impossible to forget. Its literary craft and emotional power will surprise readers unfamiliar with Strout. (Apr.)
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My Thoughts On The Giver By Lois Lowry

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On Mother’s Day all I wanted was a little quiet time so that I could finish The Giver.  But life is hectic with little kids, and I was able to read it, but I had to hurry at the end.  And so when I read the ending, I accepted it as written.  I did not look any deeper and consider that anything else was actually happening.

Until a few days later.  I read the Discussion Questions and it brought up the ‘alternate’ ending.  How could I have missed it!  But yet, I was sad as well.  Accepting it as written was a whole lot happier.

I liked this book.  It was a little Hunger Games.  A little Truman Show.  I thought about the Truman Show when they talked about people being “released” and when he was riding his bike — I just expected there to be a door, somewhere.

A great story, a fascinating premise, and an interesting ending to boot.  Though I do like one version more than the other.

What I’m Reading Now: The Giver by Lois Lowry

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In the “ideal” world into which Jonas was born, everybody has sensibly agreed that well-matched married couples will raise exactly two offspring, one boy and one girl.

These children’s adolescent sexual impulses will be stifled with specially prescribed drugs; at age 12 they will receive an appropriate career assignment, sensibly chosen by the community’s Elders.

This is a world in which the old live in group homes and are “released”–to great celebration–at the proper time; the few infants who do not develop according to schedule are also “released,” but with no fanfare.

Lowry’s development of this civilization is so deft that her readers, like the community’s citizens, will be easily seduced by the chimera of this ordered, pain-free society.

Until the time that Jonah begins training for his job assignment–the rigorous and prestigious position of Receiver of Memory–he, too, is a complacent model citizen.

But as his near-mystical training progresses, and he is weighed down and enriched with society’s collective memories of a world as stimulating as it was flawed, Jonas grows increasingly aware of the hypocrisy that rules his world.

My Thoughts on Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

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This was our Neighborhood Book Club selection for April. I read it quickly (I was a little busy in April) the day before bookclub, but I really enjoyed it.

Before reading this book my only knowledge of slavery during the Revolutionary War was from the movie Patriot where one of the characters bravely serves in the War with the promise of freedom for a certain term of service.

In this book, the main character, Isabel, is female and too young to enlist. But she desperately makes agreements with soldiers. She is owned by a prominent Tory, and so if she provides information, certainly she can get freedom or at least help to leave a horrible situation.

Isabel is brave again and again and cruelly disappointed again and again. Finally, at the end, she stops looking to others for her freedom and boldly sets off on her own plan.

This book was so sad in parts, but an important read. It is a “youth” book, but I’d read it before deciding if your youth is ready for it. In one part, Isabel is publicly disciplined, and some readers may not be ready to read that part.

There is a happy surprise at the end, and I am excited to read the sequels!

What I’m Reading Now: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Set in New York City at the beginning of the American Revolution, Chains addresses the price of freedom both for a nation and for individuals. Isabel tells the story of her life as a slave. She was sold with her five-year-old sister to a cruel Loyalist family even though the girls were to be free upon the death of their former owner. She has hopes of finding a way to freedom and becomes a spy for the rebels, but soon realizes that it is difficult to trust anyone. She chooses to find someone to help her no matter which side he or she is on. With short chapters, each beginning with a historical quote, this fast-paced novel reveals the heartache and struggles of a country and slave fighting for freedom. The characters are well developed, and the situations are realistic. An author’s note gives insight into issues surrounding the Revolutionary War and the fight for the nation’s freedom even though 20 percent of its people were in chains. Well researched and affecting in its presentation, the story offers readers a fresh look at the conflict and struggle of a developing nation.

My Thoughts On A Little Sisterly Advice by Jennifer Stewart Griffith

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I met the author, Jennifer Stewart Griffith, back when she was just Jennifer Stewart. She has a huge heart, she’s quick to listen and help, and she has a wonderful sense of humor.  All of these qualities shine through in her writing.

In this book we meet Julia, a talented musician who longs to be as popular as her sister, Bianca, and spends the first half of her freshman year at college trying to follow Bianca’s rules of flirting and dating.

Luckily toward the end of the year, Julia finds her own way. A lot of things in this book were predictable but it was still a good read.