Saturday, November 24, 2007

Choice by Nicholas Sparks (2007)

I was looking for a light read, and this was suggested. I had seen reviews of it, but have never read anything by Sparks. (At least I don't think so - I better keep a database of my read books, not just this blog.) The summary in our catalog doesn't say much: "Set amid the austere beauty of the North Carolina coast, "The Choice" tells the story of Travis Parker, a small-town veterinarian, who avoids romantic entanglements until new neighbor Gabby Holland enters his life." Let's just say this turned into a tear jerker romance written by a guy. The "choice" of the title is a hard one, but we don't get to it until towards the end of the book. Most of the book is about the way Gabby and Travis got to know each other - and that actually made sense - the uncertainties of getting to know a new person. I just have a hard time with the - knowing this is the one and only person for you and that you can't live without them - having never experienced it myself and not seeing much of it around me. I liked the small town North Carolina setting - and since I have visited that area, know how beautiful it is. I also like Travis' group of friends. Buddies that have known each other since high school, gone off to get degrees, wives and children, and now love to do things together on a regular basis - an extended family. It was not exactly the light reading I was looking for, but at some point I might read something else from Sparks.

Power Play by Joseph Finder (2007)

Too violent for me. I guess this was suggested as a best seller thriller by the audio book people, maybe I asked for something my son would enjoy too. Not for me, and I don't know where my line is, as I do enjoy some thrillers. JD Robb is quite bloody and brutal too, but it doesn't bother me as much in her books. Or maybe it was the timing. Just after reading the very realistic brutality if Hosseini's Afghanistan, I just was too sensitive to people hitting and shooting each other.

What did I like about this book? It was an interesting insight into the power play workings of the executives of a big company - this time in the aerospace industry. I guess Finder likes to tackle different industries in his books. I liked the setting - a wilderness retreat near Vancouver. Jack Landry is a professional with an awful childhood, very similar to Eve's in JD Robb's books. This past has damaged him, but also made him strong and given him skills to help the soft executives, when they are held up for ransom. I liked the fact that the CEO was a woman, as was her assistant. The glimpse into the banking world was a bit scary. All the stories and movies with heists of actual cash will soon be an antiquated, as nowadays money can be so easily transferred electronically.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (2007)

This is the most difficult book I have read in a long time. There were times when I had to stop listening to it, as I couldn't take hearing about one more brutal beating. But these incredible Afghani women deserved me to hear their tale to the end, so I went back to the book. I just have to count my blessings if I have such a hard time reading or listening to this, while so many women are still living this type of nightmare.

Though Hosseini's Kite Runner was also a heavy book about the realities of Afghani life, it seemed lighter. There was more pre-war joy - as in the descriptions of the kite running contest. And a good portion of the book is set in the emigrant community in the United States. Not an easy life, but nothing compared to the constant hardships and brutality experienced by Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Hosseini starts his tale of Afghanistan in the 1950's with Mariam's childhood. She ends up married off to an older man in Kabul, who asks her to wear the burka even before the Taliban insisted all women wear them. Later we meet free spirited Laila, who is almost broken by the consequences of the war. I don't want to go into details, as I'd like to leave the brutal incidents of their lives as much of a surprise to the next reader as they were to me.

I cringed every time the burka was mentioned, though I did see the advantage of it being a certain protection against a brutal outside world. One of the non-brutal scenes that most angered me was when Laila needed help with the birth of her second child. Only one hospital would still accept women, there were no supplies - like anesthesia for the operation, and the female doctor was expected to wear a burka while operating. I don't get it. How stupid and insecure can these guys get? Don't they realize they need the women to be healthy to provide for them, to bring into the world the next generation? I am also surprised by the resilience of the human body. That these women could still walk and function after being beaten so brutally so many times.

I don't think I will be handing this out as a Christmas gift. If someone really wants to read it, let them find their own path to this book.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rodzina by Karen Cushman (2003)

Serendipity can be amazing. I picked up this young adult book as a break from listening to Hosseini's very heavy book - Thousand Splendid Suns and the reading of Eat, Pray, Love. I had forgotten that Cushman isn't afraid of tackling hardships in history, even if they are softened for the young reader. The story of Rodzina was intensified for me by the parallels I saw between her and the two women in Hosseini's Afghanistan. Rodzina is a 12 year old Polish girl in Chicago who's parents die and she is put in an orphanage, then taken on a train west to find a home for her. The loss in her is deep, and the dangers real - of being given away into servitude, maybe even slavery, or when one nasty guy plans to make her his wife. Mariam and Laila in Hosseini's book both lost their parents and were given away to a brutal man, but the war and surrounding culture made their lives so much more horrific. In the afterward we read that there really was a movement to get orphans out of cities and sent west, so that orphan trains were a real phenomenon.

I had originally picked up this book because it was historical fiction about East Europeans. The title Rodzina is strange, but apropos. The author explains she saw this on her great grandmother's grave and only later found out it wasn't her first name, but the word "family." So no girl would ever be named Family, but since this book is so much about families and belonging, I think it makes perfect sense.