Posts filed under ‘November 2013 reads’

All kinds of spooky tales – “Sisterland,” “This House is Haunted,” “Doctor Sleep”

Apparently the fall has resulted in a quite a list of spooky reads.  I was not really amazed by any of them but two of three were fun in their own way.

1. “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld (Published in 2013) –  I really liked Sittenfeld’s “Prep” so I was excited to read this book. I quickly learned that not all of Sittenfeld’s writing is created equal. This book took a fairly interesting concept and made it, amazingly, boring.   Kate is a thirty-something stay at home mom living the picturesque suburban American life in St. Louis.  Kate has spent her life trying to hide that she and her twin sister, Violet, both have “the sight” and can sometimes read the future. Kate’s appearance of a normal life quickly changes when, after a small earthquake, Violet is interviewed by the local news. She predicts that another more dangerous earthquake will be hitting the city on October 16th. And book then becomes a countdown to October 16th – will the earthquake happen? And if so, how bad will it be? But the book also jumps back to Kate’s childhood and her dating history.  The writing gets confusing and I had a lot of trouble following the flow or lack thereof.  But my main gripe was that Kate was just boring and predictably flawed. The ending crisis is exactly what you expect from almost the first page and that is just…well…lazy writing.  Twins with mysterious foresight is in and of itself intriguing. The fact that Sittenfeld is able to make it dull is impressive in its own rite. And just unfortunate.

2. “This House is Haunted” by John Boyne (Published in 2013) – This book got creamed in the New York Times.  But I enjoyed it.  Set in Victorian England, Eliza finds herself lost and aimless after the death of her father.  She is young but not beautiful and certainly not rich.  On a whim and in a haze of grief, she decides to take post as a governess in a country home, Gaudlin Hall.  When she arrives by train she is greeted at the door of the large home by the two children themselves.  No one else is present in the home and Eliza quickly learns that she follows a long line of governesses (none lasted very long).  Of course, it is a given that the house is haunted but the book is fun and as Eliza finds out why the house is haunted it is a nice mix of “Jane Eyre” and “Turn of the Screw.”  Not written as well but still a good time for cold night reading.

3.  “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King (Published in 2013)– One of my favorite reading memories is as a thirteen year old reading “The Shining” in the middle of the night and then being too scared to sleep.  I think this is almost everyone’s experience with this book.  I saw the movie a few years later and it was scary but nothing close to the book.  When I read that King had written a sequel following Danny as an adult I knew I would be one of the many suckers who had to read it.  Danny, like his father, has struggled with alcoholism.  It quiets the shining but is quickly ruining his life. He wonders aimless until he ends up in a small town in New Hampshire  working as a nurse’s aid at the local hospice center.  Dan’s ability to shine helps him assist the dying in their transition into the next world.  Since Dan’s first day in the town he has felt that he is where he is meant to be.  He begins receiving telepathic messages from a young girl, Abra.   Because of her abilities Abra’s life is in danger and Dan finds himself in the role of mentor for Abra.  Everything ties up very nicely in this book but it was not really scary.  There are vampire like people, eerie moments, etc. but there were really no moments that kept me up in the middle of the night.  But it was still worth the read and I enjoyed it for what it was.

6a00d8341cbf9a53ef016760842b30970bI am reading “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tart now so I think I am off the spooky theme.  Though I guess I don’t know how it ends so we will see.  Most importantly, Happy Thanksgiving fellow readers.  Enjoy the people you love and I hope you find time for yourself and a good book.

November 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm Leave a comment

The stories we tell on trains – “Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith

Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith, Published in 2013. 

This book is beautiful.  It is the kind of book you end with a sigh and a happy heart.

It is a simple story.  Four strangers, riding the train from Edinburgh to London.   They are sitting two on each side of the coach, facing each other.  And somehow a story starts.  The simple “why are you going London?” turns into a story about a possible career in both art and love.  Then everyone has a story, some outwardly expressed and some revisited internally.  But all of the stories are about love and how it has brought them to this particular train, this particular path.

“Trains are everyday, prosaic things, but they can be involved in, be the agents of, so much else, including that part of our human life that for so many far outweighs any other—our need for love—to give it and to receive it in that familiar battle that all of us fight with loneliness.”

Trains can make us wistful. They take us away from something. They take us  towards something else.  They move on a set path that does not change.  You can board trains in snow or rain or beautiful sunshine.  Your lover can wave to you from the platform.  You can see the people you love slowly disappear as the train pulls away.  Trains rock back and forth, in a consoling manner as you watch the landscape change.   Trains make us wistful for good reason. They are not unlike love really.

Smith is a brilliant writer. He weaves the story of the train not just into the actual setting of the characters telling their stories but the trains play a part in each story as well.  The stories are not scintillating or shocking or laced with suspenseful moments. They are sweet, charming stories. They are the stories of everyday lives that could be told on a train to a stranger, who can then nod and add their own story.  Smith has the gentle touch of an old storyteller who knows what is important in life.  And his wisdom makes his writing beautiful  – “We live and breathe love. Loving someone is the good thing we do in our lives.”

English: Train leaving Waverley Station (Edinb...

English: Train leaving Waverley Station (Edinburgh). Nederlands: Vertrekkende trein uit Waverley Station (Edinburgh). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

November 8, 2013 at 7:50 pm Leave a comment

Meeting Rowling – “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by J.K. Rowling, Published in 2013

This book was an accident. I was walking around my library and saw it in the “New Books” section.  I thought I remembered something about it and checked it out.  When I got home I realized this was  a book Rowling written under a pseudonym.  I am new to Rowling and a bit unsure about this book.

Like all private detectives, Cormoran Strike is having a tough time. He is broke. He has been kicked out of the apartment he was sharing with his girlfriend.  H16160797is father is a famous musician with whom he has no contact. And he is continually struggling with the pain from his amputated leg.  One day the brother of the famous model Lula Landry walks into Strike’s office convinced his sister’s suicide three months prior was really a murder.  Though Strike is not sure that his client is not a bit off his rocker, he needs the money and so he takes the job.  Strike then spends a lot of time with the rich and famous trying to find out what really happened to Lula.

Rowling can write. She has a knack for conversation and cadence that I have not seen in a while.  You can hear the characters talking and exactly what tone they are using.  I found that impressive.  The story was really not that inventive. I did love the characters, particularly Strike’s secretary, Robin, who is only meant to be a temp.  She excited about working for a detective and has a lot of potential (because there will be future books).

The write up for this book says you have never met a private detective like Cormoran Strike. That is not true. You have met him if you have ever read a detective novel.  That said, he is truly endearing and likeable (think Wallander meets Poirot meets Jane from Prime Suspect).  He has boundary problems, he likes a few pints, he is hard to get close to but is struggling to get his life together.  You know the type.  It is a formula that works so I am not complaining.

What I will complain about is the length of this suspense novel.  It is over 400 pages.  And while I am not one to shirk at long books a suspense novel just by its very nature needs to be shorter than 400 pages or it just gets exhausting.

So the characters are fun. The story is pretty good.  The length is silly.   But hey I wouldn’t mind meeting Cormoran Strike again, or Rowling’s writing for that matter.  Just maybe with a bit more editing.

Other reviews to check out: 

November 2, 2013 at 8:31 pm 1 comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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