Category: Fiction Review

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post does not contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Short Story Collection

Unaccustomed Earth is a bit unusual in that it is actually a collection of short stories.  Part One consists of five different stories and Part Two has three stories centered around the same two main characters over the span of several decades.  All the characters are Bengali immigrants adjusting to life in America.

For the most part, Lahiri’s stories were easy to read, with characters keeping secrets and experiencing life’s disappointments and hardships.  Some of the stories were more memorable than others.  A week after reading Part One, I could only remember three of the five short story plots.  In Part Two, the voice changed to first person and took a while to get used to.  Just when I was used to one voice, it changed to the second character’s voice, and then the final chapter was back to third person.

Pervasive Sadness

Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who has a penchant for ending her stories abruptly, with no follow up of the characters.  She likes to leave you guessing as to what happens in the future.  Sometimes that works, but more often I was aggravated.  I wanted more and felt cheated.

While I feel I have a better understanding of how immigrants and their children adjust (or do not adjust) to life in a new setting, Unaccustomed Earth left me sad and depressed, like I’d just spent a week without any sunshine.  Lahiri’s characters reminded me of Eeyore, from Winnie-the-Pooh, always thinking, “Woe is me.”   She would have us believe that immigrants rarely experience joy in their new country.  I hope that is not reality.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

 

The first line in The Horse Whisperer sets up the tone of the book quite well:

There was death at its beginning as there would be death again at its end.

After reading that line, how can you not read quickly through the first chapter to see who is going to die and how?

Horses And More

This story has all the components needed to suck you in: forbidden love, a life-threatening accident, a ruggedly handsome cowboy (Tom, the horse whisperer), a driven professional woman seeking healing for her daughter and herself (Annie), a teenage daughter in emotional pain (Grace), a supportive husband who fears he’s losing his family (Robert), and the big sky of Montana. Oh, and horses.  Lots of horses.

While I’m not exactly a horse person, I liked almost everything about this novel.  The characters were multi-dimensional, the storyline compelling, and the descriptions of Montana made me want to hop in the car and go see it for myself.

Initially I was shocked and angry with the story resolution.  I wanted a fairytale ending, which, of course, wasn’t possible.  “There would be death again at its end,” remember? (By the end of the book, I’d forgotten that tidbit of information.)  The only question was, who would die?

Philosophy Of Life

Early in the book we learn Tom’s philosophy of life:

“I guess that’s all forever is,” his father replied. “Just one long trail of nows. And I guess all you can do is try and live one now at a time without getting too worked up about the last now or the next now.” It seemed to Tom as good a recipe for life as he’d yet heard.

In the next to the last chapter, Tom is brought face to face by the “next now” that his living “one now at a time” has created.  Author Evans is pretty clear that Tom had options – he’s just not clear why Tom made the choice that he did.  I was left wondering if Tom was really being altruistic in his final scene or if he took the easy way out of what had become a very messy situation.

Notwithstanding the ending, I really liked this novel.  The writing was lyrical and I highlighted many quotes throughout that I thought had real depth to them.  Here are a couple:

In chapter eight, Tom explains to his soon-to-be first wife why he is leaving college and going back to being a cowboy in Montana:

“When I was working as a hand, I just couldn’t wait to get back in at night to whatever I was reading. Books had a kind of magic. But these teachers here, with all their talk, well . . . Seems to me if you talk about these things too much, the magic gets lost and pretty soon talk is all there is. Some things in life just . . . are.”

Acceptance

In chapter twenty-two, Tom has just forced Grace’s horse Pilgrim through a process that both Annie & Grace perceived as emotionally cruel and designed to break Pilgrim’s spirit.  Tom wants them to understand what really happened:

“He [Pilgrim] had the choice to go on fighting life or to accept it…. It was hard as hell, but he could have gone on. Gone on making himself more and more unhappy. But what he chose to do instead was to go to the brink and look beyond. And he saw what was there and he chose to accept it.”

“Sometimes what seems like surrender isn’t surrender at all. It’s about what’s going on in our hearts. About seeing clearly the way life is and accepting it and being true to it, whatever the pain, because the pain of not being true to it is far, far greater.”

Perhaps, at the end, Tom was simply seeing clearly the way life had to be for those he loved and being true to it.

 

Have you read The Horse Whisperer? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

90. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (2012) – Discussion begins March 27, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review One Day by David Nicholls

One Day by David Nicholls is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

David Nicholls’ One Day*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

One Day follows the lives of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley over the course of about twenty years, beginning July 15, 1988, the day they both graduate from university.  In the opening scene, they are lying in bed together, discussing the future and what they see for themselves now that college is over.  Even though they seem to have little in common and their lives take divergent paths, “Dex” and “Em” maintain a connection that is revealed as each subsequent chapter covers the events on the same date each year, July 15th.

It was interesting to read this book right after Olive Kitteridge.

In Olive Kitteridge, the main character, Olive, is revealed through her interactions with others and her own inner thoughts.  Each chapter introduces new characters and settings that in some way impact Olive, an ungainly and cranky woman who has difficulty finding her place within her community and difficulty connecting on an intimate, emotional level with those closest to her, including her own husband and son.  It’s only at the very end of the book that Olive realizes she has let opportunities for intimacy pass by and decides she doesn’t want to be alone anymore.  Unfortunately, I never really connected with Olive and thus didn’t really care at the end what her self-revelations were.

In One Day, we learn about Dexter and Emma through their own thoughts and actions and their interplay with each other in each chapter.  In the very first chapter, where their relationship begins with what Dexter intended to be a one-night stand, we see their short-comings, their fears, their loneliness.  For the most part, they already know who they are.  Throughout the book we see how they navigate adulthood and try to follow their dreams.  We follow the ups and downs of their relationship and wonder if they will ever admit to each other the true depth of their feelings.

I was able to connect with Dexter and Emma.  Their uncertainties, their dreams, their actions, all seemed believable.  I’ve felt them; I know friends and relatives that have done and acted similarly.  What wasn’t clear to me, and wasn’t revealed until the very end of the book, is why their bond formed on that very first day.  Exactly what did Emma see in Dexter that led her to hang on to their friendship through the difficult times (although she did ultimately break off communications for a couple of years).  Those last chapters in the book revealed new depths to Dexter, depths we might not have believed if we had seen them at the beginning of the book, given his subsequent actions.

I really liked One Day and thought it was the book that Olive Kitteridge wanted to be.

Both Olive Kitteridge and One Day were made into movies and I’m looking forward to watching both and comparing the movies to the books.  Have you read the books?  Seen the movies?  Tell me what you thought of either, or both!

 

What did you think of One Day? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. One Day landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

_________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 91 on the list, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans (1995) – Discussion begins March 13, 2017.  This books is classified as Literary Fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009.  It was reviewed with phrases such as “Perceptive, deeply empathetic,” (O: The Oprah Magazine); “Glorious, powerful stuff,” (USA Today); “gutsy emotional punch,” (Entertainment Weekly); and “Mesmerizing,” (Tampa Tribune).   And, it was liked so well that it was made into an HBO mini-series.  Mesmerizing?  Really?! Did they read the same Olive Kitteridge that I read?

Olive Kitteridge consists of a series of short stories involving the residents of fictional Crosby, Maine.  The stories span twenty-five years and each story introduces new characters; however, in each story Olive Kitteridge herself makes an appearance.  Olive is a retired middle-school math teacher who is married to the town’s pharmacist, Henry.  Olive and Henry have one son, Christopher, who appears in a couple of the thirteen chapters.  Olive is a very difficult person to like.  She’s gruff, abrupt, and emotionally volatile. In some of the short stories we see glimmers of more positive characteristics, but throughout the book, Olive rarely takes the high road in any situation and rarely sees the positive in any situation.

Small Town Lives

The small town lives that author Elizabeth Strout presents are sad, depressed, and lonely – lives filled with jealousy and adultery.  Only rarely are we given glimpses of love, hope, faith, happiness.  I have spent the majority of my life living in small town America and it saddens me to think that people reading Olive Kitteridge will believe that fictional Crosby is representative of small town life.  Yes, people in small towns can be petty and it is impossible to avoid the rumor mill.  Adultery does exist, as does suicide, another running theme throughout Olive Kitteridge.  But my experience is that small town America is also filled with hopeful, helping, optimistic, and loving people.  It is possible in small town America to live a good and happy life, positively affecting those around you and bettering the world.  Olive Kitteridge shows us none of that.

It was only the very last chapter that I felt made the book possibly worth reading.  In the last chapter, Olive overcomes her fears and loneliness to reach out to another, admitting that she needs love, even admitting to herself that she squandered the love she had with her husband Henry.  Only in the last chapter did I feel there was any real character growth.  Maybe it took twelve chapters to show us the true Olive, warts and all, so we could appreciate her choice in the final chapter?  For me, it wasn’t enough.

 

What did you think of Olive Kitteridge? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. Olive Kitteridge landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

_________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 92 on the list, One Day by David Nicholls (2009) – Discussion begins February 27, 2017.  This books is classified as Contemporary Fiction.

#amreading Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult, who is one of The Bestseller Code 100 challenge authors, did an online interview on Facebook this week promoting her latest, Small Great Things (Amazon affiliate link).

Did you catch the interview? If not, I figured out how to embed it here. The interview is about 45 minutes long, but well worth the time. Note: It takes a minute or so for the interview to start.

Summary:

The novel is about a nurse named Ruth who is told she shouldn’t touch one of the babies in her care because the baby’s parents are white supremacists and they requested no African Americans care for their child. What does she do when an emergency comes up and she is alone with the baby?

Discussion:

Picoult says it took her twenty-five years to find a way to write about racism in America. She went to a racial justice workshop, interviewed a number of African Americans about their lives, and also spoke to a former white supremacist. Because she writes from three points of view;  as Ruth the African American nurse, as the white supremacist father, and as the white lawyer who defends Ruth, Jodi had to create three different voices. The author says that after writing as the supremacist, she felt the need to take a shower.

During the interview, she also discusses some of her other books and the process of writing. I smiled when she disclosed her daughter protested because she found out her mother had used one of their conversations in the book.

If you watched the interview, what did you think?

 

Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (October 11, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0345544951
ISBN-13: 978-0345544957

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