Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jude the ObscureJude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliantly written book about a pathetic, easily manipulated, naive yet honorable man whose admirable moral courage leads him to make consistently poor choices in ever increasing bleak circumstances. This is a titanic novel, full of allusion and metaphor, rife with biblical references, and nods to Hardy's literary ancestors, Milton, Wordsworth, and Shelley. To quote goodreads reviewer christopher-h, "Modernization has come and displaced the old world romanticism of Jude Fawley and Thomas Hardy. Jude-the-Dreamer and Jude-the-Idealist have no place in this new order, because to transcend to his ideals means that he must die as Keats and Shelley so eloquently discovered." Modernization, indeed! This novel of Hardy's was banned from libraries and schools for years….best banned book ever. It could be a disappointing, depressing read for many; one reviewer said, "read this if you're looking for the final push toward suicide." Yet the dilemma is eternal, and the writing is superb! I am and always will be a Thomas Hardy fan. Jude's story has become, in a very real sense Hardy's modern retelling of the Book of Job. [Note the word play too -- the "J" from 'Jude' and the "Ob" from 'Obscure':] .

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This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very funny book with memorable crazy but believable down-to-earth characters. Excellent writing..if you can ignore the bad language and almost complete lack of respect for traditional values and uplifting moral standards, which cost 2 stars on my rating.


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The Lottery RoseThe Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not her best book. It is an uncomplicated, "sweet" but unlikely story with unlikely characters and unlikely resolutions. It is a message of hope, but it drags a little. I like Irene Hunt's books but this one disappointed.

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A Soldier of the Great WarA Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful prose. Interesting story with a somewhat sad yet acceptable conclusion, believable characters, some excellent humor. I was continually reminded of Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace, likely because the setting for both novels is a long journey, about same time period, and both beautifully written. Too dang long…Audio version (24 discs…31 hours) is well done, however I would *not* have read all 860 ponderous pages….too many books, too little time. This is 2nd book I have read by Mark Helprin both of which would benefit from serious editing for length. I would like to see a screenplay written and produced for this.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter's TaleWinter's Tale by Mark Helprin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

768 pages of creativity run amok. Part 1 is lovely. Most of Part 2 could be sacked with little being lost. I like the politics, the explanation of justice, the imagery, but the story keeps getting sidetracked with additional characters, endless detail and descriptions, and words, words, words. This is a romance lost in in a jungle of words.

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Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2 stars? 4 stars? I didn't really like this, but the author gets high marks for a compelling read which I couldn't put down and at the same time wished would end. There is drama, but it is not entertaining, not instructive or cautionary (no lesson to be learned), not uplifting or inspiring, has no humor, it doesn't even offer an escape. Crude sophomoric language & descriptions. Still… it had me hooked in a voyeuristic way from the beginning. This is a portrait of a sociopath and the dissolution of a marriage. I have known both. I was disappointed with the lack lustre yet realistic ending in which the antagonist wins. It left me feeling yuk. yuck. & was responsible for a bad night of restless sleep.
I listened to the audio version which is superbly done.
a few favorite quotes:
“There's a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.” - true
“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.” - truer still
“My mother had always told her kids: if you're about to do something, and you want to know if it's a bad idea, imagine seeing it printed in the paper for all the world to see.” -I'm going to tell my seminary students that one.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Only Time Will Tell (The Clifton Chronicles, #1)Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fast paced, family mystery storyline that hooked me from the first read/listen (audio book). The writing is skilled and is loaded with twists and turns, which Archer does better than most, but it does not approach fine literature. It is narrated first person by the 5 main characters with each of their unique viewpoints.
Kudos to Jeffry Archer for always creating an interesting tale, with sympathetic characters, that is difficult to put down…all this with no foul language or gratuitous descriptive sex. I have read several of his novels and will read the sequel to this.
Warning: the end of the novel is a cliff hanger and what happens next is told in at least two sequels.


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Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Delightful book! I loved the main character Flavia, a quirky precocious 11 year old, and will definitely read more in the series. It is a real authorial feat to make a murder mystery so light-hearted and humorous.

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The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Faulkner: You know it is going to be depressing, tragic. You can also count on it being real with characters you have known or recognized at some point in your life. Benjy, a nonjudgmental, personally involved narrator, gives a fractured portrayal of a deteriorating fractured family. I read this because it was the only one of his books I had not read and it was on my bucket list. Counted as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, I reveled in Faulkner's mastery of language and characterization, his humor, and his heart wrenching empathy, the talents that made it a classic, nevertheless I did not love it.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this at least 35 years ago, and it still at the top of my best books I've ever read list. Solzhenitsyn wrote a riveting tale which deals with his arrest for daring to present a differing view from Russia's prevailing totalitarian regime and his subsequent incarceration in the vast Soviet prison system. Despite the heavy subject matter - the stark chaotic realities of life (and death) in Stalin's Russia and the suffering of the inmates in the Gulag's deplorable prisons - the book is highly readable. Solzhenitsyn's first hand account reads more like a novel than an autobiography. He was able to outlive the rotten system that persecuted him and drove him into prison and exile, and finally wrote about his vindicating return to his homeland. It is an eye opening, poignant, and touching tale which should be read by anyone who thinks government (the State) exists to protect its citizens.

Favorite quotes:

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

"the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. ...And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

“Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself.”

“It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that "past" which "ought not to be stirred up.”

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