Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Keeper

Image result for the secret keeperI just finished reading Kate Morton’s “the Secret Keeper.” It’s long and fat and I read it in 3 days so I could go to bookclub and not have the ending spoiled.

This is the second Kate Morton book I’ve read (the Forgotten Garden was the first) and it did not disappoint. In fact, it was fantastic. One of the things I love about Morton’s writing is that she places you so firmly in the setting, which is important because the two books I’ve read jump around quite a bit both in time and place.

“The Secret Keeper,” set in England, is about a daughter, her mother, a shared traumatic experience and the search for a long held secret. Laurel returns home in 2011 to Greenacre, together with her siblings, to be with her mother in her final days. Being home brings back all sorts of memories for Laurel and soon she has more questions than answers. That starts her on a massive search for answers that takes us back in time to 1941 and 1961 (or thereabouts).

The trip through time is historically interesting and Morton does a wonderful job of staying true to history and making it come alive so much that you feel you are there. When she whisks you off to another time and place, you are loath to leave where you came from until she wraps you up in the new setting. But it’s not abrupt. It’s skillfully and gently done. The skill of writing it takes to do that is beyond me. It’s amazing.

The characters are well drawn, the setting is tangible, the prose is inspiring. My only problem was that I wanted the answers as much as Laurel and a few times I just wanted less fluff and more answers. But that’s her style and it sure is beautiful writing. One of my favorite parts of this novel is that the characters, the main protagonists, the hero/heroines have faults. So though you love them, you also want to shake them by the shoulder and beg them to be stronger or more patient or more kind.

My favorite character was Jimmy, the love interest in 1941. So loyal and principled. He was a photographer and took photos of the fall-out from the London Blitz. About one of the pictures of a newly orphaned, young girl, the book reads: “Small individual tragedies like this little girl’s were nothing to the larger scale of the war; she and her tap shoes could be swept as easily as dust beneath history’s carpet. That photograph was real, though; it captured its moment and preserved it for the future like an insect in amber. It reminded Jimmy why what he did, recording the truth of the war, was important.”

One of the themes of the novel is that we often don’t know the story, the history, of the people we love, our families and in particular to this book, our mothers. Laurel didn’t know her mother’s past. Dolly didn’t know the past of the woman who employed her. The book gives us insight into the past of all the main characters and guess what? The past becomes super important and fascinating.

So it got me thinking about my mom and sure, I know a few stories here and there but what about the meat? Do I know enough? Do my kids know enough? After reading this book, I am so motivated to know my own mother’s past and learn from her personal history, because it’s important.

I must confess, my admiration for this book was greatly increased when Morton referenced the Tardis from Doctor Who. How can you go wrong with a book that sweeps generations and mentions the Tardis? So read “The Secret Keeper”! Then go read “The Forgotten Garden.” You will be transported to amazing times and places and you won’t regret it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Wonder

Image result for wonder palacioThe last book was Wonder. Late again to the party. This book has been around for a while. So I have a 6th grade son and, boy, does this author get the 5th/6th grade social scene. I loved how the story was told. With each new point of view going back in time just a little and then propelling the story further on. Genius. Each voice was clear and dead on as far as I’m concerned, for the age group.

As a parent, I appreciated the role and characterization of the parents. They were supportive and real. They struggled just as much as any other character in the story and parents reading the book could relate. Humor was a great part of the story as well, especially from Auggie (who probably got it from his Dad). My son liked it a lot and quoted it around the house for a few days.

I am glad Auggie had friends. Sometimes in real life, that doesn’t happen, so I felt like the story was a little sugar coated but I’m glad it was, especially for this age group. I think they need an example of the correct way to deal with difficult situations, which is one of the purposes of literature. I hope there are kids like that in my son’s school, who will stand up for the underdog. I would like to hope my son would stand up, or sit down at lunch, with the “Auggies” in his school.

Like “Fault in Our Stars” I felt like this book did a great job of voicing and describing the pre-adolescent and adolescent life. I really think everyone should read this book. If I had to pick one of the three in this post to recommend, it would be an easy choice. Wonder, for sure.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Image result for the fault in our starsOk, the next book I read was Fault In Our Stars. I know, I’m a little late to the party on this one. I wanted to see it with my teenage daughter and I just have a hard time seeing a movie based on a book without reading it first. And then, while I was reading it, she went and saw it anyway without me. Wahwah. Let me preface this by saying I’m not a romance reader (or writer, I’m a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad romance writer). So why am I rewriting Cinderella? I don’t know. Let’s just say it may not be that romantic.

I thought Fault In Our Stars was a good book but I’m not in love with it like others are. I felt like some language and some of the sexual content was more than I would have liked for my slightly sheltered, Mormon daughter (jr. high age). But she read it and watched it and we talked about it and all is well in Zion.
I really enjoyed the friendship between the main characters and others. Gus and Hazel were quite mature. Maybe that comes with dealing with life and death situations as part of your normal routine. I wonder if teens got that depth. As an adult I really enjoyed it. It made me think more deeply about life, death, relationships and where I place my priorities.
I really appreciate when things don’t play out perfectly. Life isn’t perfect and often disappoints. So I liked how the highly esteemed author turns out to be a jerk, even to the end. And Gus’s other girlfriend had a downer attitude. That’s real life. So I enjoyed the book but I didn’t love it like so many others did. Maybe because of life experiences.
So this got me thinking. I didn’t absolutely love it but I’m quite sure that if I were to get together with others and discuss it, I would find more to like about the book. SO, is part of my love of some books related to the discussion and sharing of feelings I have with others? Books are powerful alone, but they are also powerful when shared through thought and discussion.
Anyway, I do have to say though, I don’t recommend reading this book if you are in the middle of being called back for further diagnosis of an abnormal mammogram and contemplating your own diagnosis. That was a little unsettling but everything turned out fine and I’m ok and the book was great. I really liked it and felt philosophical and hip while reading it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: Cinder

Image result for cinderI just finished a reading splurge. I read three great books, all very different in my opinion. Well, two of them are a little similar and the third is very different from the others but not better, so we’ll start with that one.

Cinder, as you might guess from the title, is a retelling of Cinderella. This caught my eye because, hello, I’m in the middle of writing a retelling of Cinderella. This story is fun because it is set in the future in a very techno-savy, robotic society. It even involves a race of beings from the moon. The main character is a strong and intelligent woman but still the oppressed underdog, at the mercy of her stepmother. The prince is endearing and sympathetic. A very likable character. And the peripheral characters are mostly well done. There was heartache and humor. The romance was sweet.

The problem is the whole time I’m reading, I’m thinking, if you break this down to a rough outline, it’s very similar to my story. I know, I know, they’re both Cinderella, so of course they are going to be similar. But even still, some of the things I changed, she changed too. Not to give too much away, but the family situation is similar. The way Cinder, (my character, Dru) is looked down upon and why, is similar. Their insecurity stems from the same place. But the thing is, this other author’s setting is so unique, set in the future with all the techno stuff. Mine is set in same old, same old fairytale land. And I’m struggling right now with how to make my story unique and stronger. How can I make Dru stand out? How can I make the juxtaposition more dangerous or weighty (what’s the word?) between good and evil, natural impulse and expectation, dark magic and good intentions. And if I’m not seeing similarities with Cinder, I’m seeing them with the movie Ever After. They were the furthest thing from my mind when I wrote my version. I didn’t even know about Cinder, but now I just feel like mine is a cheap imitation. I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out.

Anyway, Cinder was a great read. It really ends on the edge of a cliff. Not really an ending at all, just a beginning for more to come. So I read the preview chapter of the next book, Scarlet, which I assume is Red Riding Hood, which coincidentally, I also have a rough draft of. But it didn’t really hook me from the get go. Maybe I’ll get to it eventually but I’m in no rush.