Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Company of Liars: A Novel

Book No: 47
Title: Company of Liars: A Novel
Author: Karen Maitland
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 8/31/09
No. of Pages: 480
Rating: 4/5*****

It is 1348 and the Black Plague is racing through England. In a desperate attempt to outrun death a disparate group of travelers band together hoping to make it to the North, away from the cities and ports that have become little more than ghost towns. As they slowly wend their way through the countryside and we get to know each traveler it becomes clear that none of them are what they profess themselves to be and each of them is guarding a closely held secret.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It works as an adventure tale as well as a suspense tale with a bit of a mystery as to every character’s secret, each of which is revealed one by one. The gritty descriptions of medieval life and the customs, beliefs and superstitions of the times added a great background to the saga of this company. Some of the secrets were foreshadowed a little too heavy handedly so that not all of them were a surprise, but the tension within the group is ratcheted up little by little so that you cannot wait to turn the page to find out what happens next. The last page of the book was deliciously eerie and although you might have suspected it coming it still has an impact. If you like your historical fiction detailed and steeped in the era in which it is set and filled with engaging characters, both good and evil, then this is the book for you.

After You

Title: After You
Book No: 46
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: Fiction/Chick-lit
Completed: 8/19/09
No. of Pages: 340
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I read Ms. Buxbaum’s debut novel the Opposite of Love and really enjoyed it. I was really looking forward to her latest book and was not disappointed.

Ellie Lerner’s best friend Lucy is murdered, right in front of her daughter’s eyes. When Ellie learns of this tragedy she drops everything to run to her goddaughter Sophie’s side. What we don’t know at first is that Ellie is also running from her life, her own tragedy and possibly using this as an excuse to escape reality.

As in her previous book Julie Buxbaum does not always present characters you immediately identify with. Ellie can be self-absorbed, prickly and dare we say it – stupid. Yet she is a bit of a lost soul trying to find her way through the loss of her child while trying to help her best friends child come through the loss of her mother as unscathed as possible. When Ellie stubbornly refuses to return home to her husband and he begins divorce proceedings, and when she learns some unpleasant truths about her best friend, she slowly comes to terms with the mess that is life.

I like the way the author doesn’t make everything cut and dried, good or bad, black or white. There are so many shades of grey – like life. Sometimes you love Ellie other times you wonder what the hell she is thinking. There are some predictable plot lines yet you still want to know how it will all turn out. It doesn’t all end in a neat little bow, but the ending is hopeful and more on the realistic side than usual. Enjoyable, often thought provoking; I don’t think Ms. Buxbaum has hit her stride yet, but she is getting there and I am looking forward to more from this author.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Book No: 45
Title:Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safron Foer
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 8/13/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

I have been thinking about my review of this book for the last few weeks, finding it hard to put my thoughts into words. I approached this book with a lot of trepidation; I live outside of NYC and unfortunately know too many people who lost their husband, wives, parents and children on September 11th. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for several years and finally got up the courage to read it. I am so very, very grateful that I did.

Although the events of ‘The Worst Day’, as Oskar Schell the nine year old protagonist of the story calls September 11th, form the framework of this book, the story is more about how one accepts loss and learns to move on, albeit changed and damaged in some way. The book is about the horrors of war and terrorism and all the pain that is left for the survivors to experience and try to learn how to live again. It is a book that if filled with humor, sadness, tragedy and love.

Oskar is an extremely bright child nine year old. His father died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. When Oskar finds a key among his father’s possession, mysteriously labeled Black, he decides to set out to find the lock the key will fit. His search sets him on a journey in which he encounters people from all different walks of life, each of which seems to have some small impact on his life. When Oskar finally learns the meaning of the key he also reveals a secret he has been living with since the death of his dad. Interlaced between Oskar’s search is the story of his grandparents, survivors of the bombing of Dresden during WWII.

I think part of the beauty of this book is in the depiction of Oskar. He’s intelligent, but Foer doesn’t make him sound mature, he’s still a little boy and he can be rude, obnoxious, sweet, funny, cruel and at times remarkably perceptive; he’s very much like many little boys I’ve known. There were so many times I just wanted to reach out and hug this child. I found his relationship with his grandmother very touching and often charming. The story of his grandparent’s life plays out rather slowly and at times it seems a preposterous life, but it juxtaposes nicely with Oskar’s own attempt at making sense out of unbearable tragedy. In the end we are left with a feeling of hope that healing is possible.

I love Foer’s use of language and his skill at evoking a reaction from you; he has the ability to mix humor and pathos, frequently in the same sentence. He also paints indelible pictures in your mind, not by the retelling of unfathomable events but by his characters reactions to these acts. There were times I had to stop reading because I could not see through my tears.

This was an outstanding book one that will stay with me a long time. I am planning on reading Foer’s first book, Everything is Illuminated, very soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Falling Behind- Again!

Who ever said "So many books, so little time" knew what they were talking about. I am sadly overdue with reviews, because I just have too many books to read. I have 4 reviews to write to bring this blog up to date. I have one more book to read and review for Amazon Vine - Dragon House by John Shors. I have 2 books out from the library: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and just got a notice that The Hunger Games by Suzanne collins has come in; I am going to read that for my Play Book Tag Coming of Age read. I also need to read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe for my Bibliophile Reading Group as well as Sarah's Key for Booktivity! and to top it all off I have been reading Drood by Dan Simmons for 2 months now and am only have way through it! There just aren't enough hours in the day and for some reason my family expects clean clothes, a clean house and some hot meals! There really are just too many books and not enough time!

September Tag at Play Book Tag

The tag for the month of September at Play Book Tag is: Coming of Age

Shelfari members have tagged over 5,000 books with the Coming of Age tag, so this month Play Book Tag members will be reading and reviewing as many books as we can that have this tag. If you're interested in reading or learning about more of these books come and join us:

Play Book Tag at Shelfari

Michelle Moran Book giveaway at Ruby Loves Adventure

Michelle Moran is giving away a copy of her book Cleopatra's Daughter. To enter the contest go to this blog:

Ruby Loves Adventure

Good Luck!