**** 1/2
Very good
**** 1/2
Just okay
Not for me
Definitely not for me

LibraryThing Early Reviewers



Power By Ringsurf

.: A Year of Reading :.

Weather Forecast

Larry's Party by Carol Shields


Amazon info

Larry's Party is the third novel I've read by Carol Shields; it won the Orange Prize in 1998. Having loved the previous two, The Stone Diaries and (especially) Unless , I had high hopes for this one as well. However, it didn't really live up to my expectations.

Over the course of his life, Larry Weller goes from flower arranger at a flower store to a master designer of landscape mazes. I'm not that into botany, so that part was only marginally interesting to me; however, I would definitely like to visit some of the mazes described in the book, particularly in Europe. More interesting to me was the progression in Larry's thought life and love life over the course of the book. He starts out not knowing much about himself or what he wants in his twenties and of course knowing himself infinitely better by the time he's in his late forties. Youth is so wasted on the young, right? (Not that there aren't exceptions to you youngsters out there!) Being in my early forties, I definitely related to that aspect of the book.

"He (Larry) is recovering; in a sense he's spent his whole life in a state of recovery, but has only begun, at age forty-five, to breathe in the vital foreknowledge of what will become of the sovereign self inside him, that luxurious ornament. He'd like that self to be more musical and better lit, he'd like to possess a more meticulous sense of curiosity, and mostly he'd like someone, some thing to love. He's getting close. He feels it. He's halfway awake now, and about to wake up fully."

Some of the aspects I didn't like about the book are that it was a little boring in places, i.e. the botany and the fact that Larry is just a regular Joe with not much in the way of personality. I think that was supposed to be the point, though. There is even a chapter dedicated to his name and what the stereotypes of "Larrys" are. Another aspect is that in quite a few places she repeats details that we already know about characters or events. I know that was by design, but I'm not sure I liked it. Also, it is a bit raunchy in places. There's a chapter called "Larry's P#n*s" that goes on and on in very descriptive detail about that specific body part and all the different names for it that people use. Some people would find that extremely funny, I'm sure, but I could have done without the more graphic parts of that chapter.

The last chapter is called "Larry's Party," and that chapter and the dinner party itself wrapped up everything in Larry's life to that point very nicely. I really liked the metaphor that our lives are mazes. Sometimes there's only one way in and one way out. Sometimes there are four exits. But always, there is the 'goal' in the center. Honestly, the last chapter made me lift my rating from 3 1/2 stars to 4. It was very cleverly done. And although this book was my least favorite of Shields' books so far, I still plan on reading many more if not all of her works. I really do think she was an amazing writer.


Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

shanghaigirls Snowflower and the Secret Fan tied (along with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak) for my top book of 2007, so I was very anxious to read the latest book by Lisa See. It did not disappoint. In fact, I am now fairly certain I will want to read most, if not all, of Lisa See's works. Though I didn't feel it was as good as Snowflower , I still thought it was excellent and will definitely be reading the sequel.

The novel takes place mostly in the 1940's and 50's, and I just love the sense of history in See's novels. It was so fascinating to learn about the Chinese immigration process and the discrimination they endured, the dynamic of Chinatown, and the workings of the new Hollywood. Not to mention the intense relationship between Pearl and May, two sisters who are thrust into a completely new life with only each other as a reminder of the old. I also appreciate the female perspective on all their difficult situations.

Though I thought the ending of Shanghai Girls was a bit abrupt until I realized a sequel was in the works, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of sisters and the almost unbreakable bond they share. Reading a second novel by See made me even more interested in reading her non-fiction historical account, On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese American Family . I'm not a huge non-fiction fan, so that says a lot. I was surprised how much I enjoyed another Chinese family account when I read Wild Swans by Jung Chang, so I know it's fairly certain I will like On Gold Mountain as well. Plus, it was heavily wishlisted on both PBS and Bookmooch, and that's always a good sign.

Highly recommended.

2009, 336 pp.


[Disclosure: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.]

Unless by Carol Shields

unless Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around the ear, you hardly hear it, and yet everything depends on its breathy presence.

I love Carol Shields' writing. This is only my second novel by Shields, but I have also read about 1/3 of her short story collection (with plans to read the rest). The first was the Pulitzer-winning The Stone Diaries, which I also loved . Something about Shields' writing just speaks to me. I can't really pinpoint it exactly -- I just know that I would very much like to read all of her works at some point.

Shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, Unless is a story about a mother's grief and pain over her daughter, who is not dead, or on drugs, but IS, by choice, a street beggar. Norah just suddenly dropped out of college and is now on the streets. Reta, the mother, is an author and a naturally happy person. Up until this point she hasn't really had any difficulty in her life. In fact, during an author interview:

The radio host in Baltimore asked me -- he must have been desperate -- what was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. That stopped me short. I couldn't think of the worst thing. I told him that whatever it was, it hadn't happened yet. I knew, though, at that moment, what the nature of the "worst thing" would be, that it would be socketed somehow into the lives of my children.

Though Reta has been with her children's father Tom since they met, they have never married. Their relationship is a good one, but Reta has strong feelings about feminism and the role of women in society. She suspects that perhaps part of Norah's problem lies in this area. Reta writes (but never sends) letters to editors and the like when she perceives an injustice has been done to women. An example:

This will explain my despondency, and why I am burbling out my feelings to you. I am a forty-four-year old woman who was under the impression that society was moving forward and who carries the memory of a belief in wholeness. Now, suddenly, I see it from the point of view of my nineteen-year-old daughter. We are all trying to figure out what's wrong with Norah. She won't work at a regular job. She's dropped out of university, given up her scholarship. She sits on a curbside and begs. Once a lover of books, she has resigned from the act of reading, and believes she is doing this in the name of goodness. She has no interest in cults, not in cultish beliefs or in that particular patronizing cultish nature of belonging. She's too busy with her project of self-extinction. It's happening very slowly and with much grief, but I'm finally beginning to understand the situation. My daughter Christine grinds her teeth at night, which is a sign of stress. Another daughter, Natalie, chews her nails. Women are forced into the position of complaining and then needing comfort. What Norah wants is to belong to the whole world or at least to have, just for a moment, the taste of the whole world in her mouth. But she can't. So she won't.

Another strong passage:

Because Tom is a man, because I love him dearly, I haven't told him what I believe: that the world is split in two, between those who are handed power at birth, at gestation, encoded with a seemingly random chromosome determinate that says yes for ever and ever, and those like Norah, like Danielle Westerman, like my mother, like my mother-in-law, like me, like all of us who fall into the uncoded female otherness in which the power to assert ourselves and claim our lives has been displaced by a compulsion to shut down our bodies and seal our mouths and be as nothing against the fireworks and streaking stars and blinding light of the Big Bang. That's the problem.

I could put a hundred quotes from the book in this review; it is a book I will definitely be keeping. If you haven't read any of Carol Shields yet, I strongly recommend her as an author. If you've read any of her books yourself, I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.

2002, 224 pp.


The Tricking of Freya

trickingoffreya The immigrant Icelanders are so obscure you could easily go your entire life in this country and never hear a word about them. [...] Nobody's heard of New Iceland. Was it because we were so wretchedly oppressed? Hardly. If anything, the opposite was true. We assimilated more quickly than most, with our fair features and devotion to literacy, our ability to persist through hardship etched in our genes. No, the answer is simple enough, it seems to me: there were too few of us to matter. All said, only fifteen thousand Icelanders emigrated at the tail end of the ninteenth century -- a droplet lost among the million-size waves of immigrants who flooded North America's shores. It's no wonder we never made it into my college history books.

The Tricking of Freya is a wonderful debut novel by Christina Sunley. Taking place in Canada and Iceland, the book is a love letter of sorts to her Icelandic ancestors and heritage.

Freya is the granddaughter of Olafur, one of Iceland's greatest poets but who had, much to the chagrin of Icelanders, emigrated to Canada. Though she spends her first 7 years in America, Freya learns first hand about her Icelandic heritage when she and her mother travel to Gimli, just outside of Winnipeg. There she meets her grandmother for the first time and her aunt, nicknamed Birdie. Birdie discovers that Freya's mother has not been teaching her Icelandic, and she immediately begins that task. Freya takes to Birdie and her Icelandic heritage very well, but also slowly learns that Birdie can be unstable.

When Freya gets the opportunity to go to Iceland, she becomes even more aware of her heritage. One of the most interesting facets of Icelandic life is their love of books:

Cousin, that house was the most marvelous thing I had ever seen. Not from the outside. From the outside was a three-story cement facade painted pastel green. But the inside! Books lined every wall of every room. Books climbed up stairs and rested on landings. Books stretched over the arches of doorways like bridges, stood guard over mantels. Old leather-bound volumes with gilt titles gleamed in glass cabinets. Books in the basement, books in the attic. Four stories of books. How many, I wanted to know.

"Nine thousand, six hundred," Ulfur answered. "Approximately. The largest private book collection in Iceland."

This book's themes include history, mythology, psychology, and the significance of one's family roots and heritage. I enjoyed it very much and will look forward to Christina Sunley's next book.

2009, 342 pp.

[Disclaimer: This copy was obtained from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories

This is a wonderful book for children. Not only was it a Newbery Honor Book, it was also written by Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer and illustrated by the wonderful Maurice Sendak. With stories of fools, mixed-up feet, devils, and pet goats, this book can be enjoyed by both children and adults.

My favorite was definitely the title story, "Zlateh the Goat." Zlateh has been good to Aaron's family, but it is now Hanukkah and the family needs money for basic necessities. Aaron grudgingly leads her to the butcher, only to be caught in a snowstorm. The snow is so bad that no one can even search for the pair. Will Aaron be reunited with his family in time for Hanukkah? Will he even survive the storm?

Recommended for families with children and adults with a Jewish interest.

1966, 90 pp.

Q & A (aka Slumdog Millionaire)

I'd love to go to India some day. After reading this book and Beneath a Marble Sky in February, I'm ready. Does anyone want to pay for my flight? Before my trip, I'll first review the book by Vikas Swarup, and then I'll talk about the movie and some of the differences between the two.

I really like how this book was structured. In the opening chapter, we find Ram Mohammed Thomas in jail for cheating on a quiz show. Did he cheat or was he just lucky? How could an orphan from the slums answer every question correctly? Then, the following chapters go through each question and tell us a story of how Ram Mohammed Thomas might know the answer.

What kind of name is Ram Mohammed Thomas anyway? He was actually named that to represent the three main religions of India. I thought it was funny how he used only one of his three names depending on the situation he was in. I enjoyed each story, but there were some horrific ones. Children should not have to go through such horrible acts.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

The sight of all this opulence makes me uneasy. In Mumbai, Salim and I would gate-crash the weddings of the rich for free food, but we never grudged them their wealth. But seeing these rich college boys spending money like paper, I am gripped by a totally new sense of inadequacy. The contrast with my own imperfect life pinches me with the force of a physical hurt. Not surprisingly, my hunger just shrivels up and dies despite the mounds of tempting dishes lying on my table. I realize then that I have changed. And I wonder what it feels like to have no desires left becuase you have satisfied them all, smothered them with money even before they are born. Is an existence without desire very desirable? And is the poverty of desire better than rank poverty itself? I think about these questions but do not arrive at any satisfactory answers.

Then, the movie was already at the cheap theatre, so I went to see it for $1.50. This was on a Wednesday. If I'd seen it a day earlier, it would have only been 50 cents. 50 CENTS!! I really liked the movie. The sights and sounds of India were just absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, the slum scenes were also particularly effective.

One of the biggest changes from the book is that in the movie, Salim and Jamal (they changed his name) are brothers instead of just friends. I could see why that might make things easier, but I wasn't sure how I felt about the character difference in Salim. I do think I prefer the relationship the two boys had in the book rather than the movie, but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the film at all.

In the book, the quiz show winnings are $1 billion rupees, and in the movie, it's only 20 million rupees. I'm not sure why they felt the need to change the prize and the title of the quiz show, but whatever. In addition, some of the quiz questions were changed to fit the plot of the movie rather than the book. I did miss the Australian chapter and the story about his lifeline call, but I do realize there was absolutely no way to fit everything into the movie. I enjoyed the movie for 'the movie experience' and seeing the sights and sounds of India, but I do think I preferred the plot of the book.

2005, 318 pp.
Rating: 4/5

Other reviews: