Tag: Bestseller Code 100 (page 2 of 12)

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This was author Jess Walter’s sixth novel and it received much critical acclaim.  NPR’s Fresh Air podcast named it the best book of 2012.  Readers on Amazon and Goodreads almost universally love it.  And yet, five days after I finished reading it, I remain ambivalent. There was a lot to like with this book, but equally as much not to like.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Historical Romance or Literary Fiction

Beautiful Ruins is labeled Historical Romance and also Literary Fiction, but it’s definitely not your typical bodice ripping, hero saves the day historical romance.  In fact, so very little romance actually occurs that it’s difficult to see why it would be labeled as such.  The only truly romantic character was Pasquale, whom we meet in the opening scene:

She smiles at him and Pasquale falls in love, and “would remain in love for the rest of his life — not so much with the woman, whom he didn’t even know, but with the moment.”

While Pasquale remains in love his whole life with the memory of Dee Moray, the movie star who appears in his small village in Italy,  he goes on to experience love and a full life with another woman.  The memory of Dee Moray haunts him, though, and at the end of his life he endeavors to find her and to learn what happened to her and her child.

For all of Pasquale’s romanticism, Beautiful Ruins is a study of relationships and the never-ending quest and need for love, whether from a parent/child, a lover/spouse, or friends.

Beautiful Mess

Beautiful Ruins took 15 years to write and, at 372 pages, it felt like it took that long to read.  The story jumps back and forth between different time periods and locations — Italy in the 1960s, America, England and Scotland in the 1980s, present day in Hollywood and Idaho — so that you almost needed a calendar and globe to keep track.

The writing was a hodge-podge of different styles; in addition to the normal chapters, also included was the script of a play, the complete first chapter of a never-to-be-finished novel, and a screenplay pitch on the infamous Donner party, among other oddities.  It reminded me of one of my attempts at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where I needed to achieve 50,000 words by the end of the month and had run out of things to write, so I included grocery lists and Christmas letters to achieve my word count.

Surprises

 There are several strong female characters in Beautiful Ruins and perhaps that is why I believed the author, Jess Walter, to be female.  Or maybe it’s because historical romance authors are predominantly female.  In any case, when I finished the book and began to read the “P.S. Insights, Interviews & More…” section at the end of the Kindle version of Beautiful Ruins, I was shocked to discover that “Jess” was male!  I’m not sure it makes any difference, but I was truly surprised.  Actually, I think it was the only surprising thing about the whole novel.  The book itself seemed predictable – chaotic but unsurprising.

I was glad for the “Insights, Interviews & More…” section at the end of the book, as that led to more understanding about the Walter’s intent when writing Beautiful Ruins.  For example:

I wondered if the truth we know from physics—that an object has the most stored energy in the moment right before it acts (think of a drawn bow)— was true of romance, too, if potential wasn’t, in some way, love’s most powerful form.

Jess Walter also shared:

I was reading The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera and I came across this: “There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact.” This, I saw, could be the ending of the book, a way of acknowledging the power of certain moments in our lives. These are the ruins of our memories, which loom in our minds like the Parthenon, even as they are decayed and weathered by time and regret. I hoped to convey the significance of such isolated moments in our lives, to show that Pasquale and Dee’s first meeting—which had kicked around in my own head since 1997— might indeed be powerful enough to drive him to find her almost fifty years later.

 As grateful as I was for that section of the book, I shouldn’t have needed it.  I should have gleaned at least some of his intentions from simply reading the book.  The fact that I didn’t frustrates me, and I don’t think good literature should leave the reader feeling frustrated.

 

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

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – Discussion begins April 2, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker prize

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Writers can learn a lot from reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker. In addition to containing a treasure trove of writing techniques to study, it also discusses the process — from writing a novel to pitching to agents — in a wryly humorous way.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary of main plot:  Touted both as literary fiction and a historical romance, Beautiful Ruins follows the lives of five people, including Pasquale Tursi and a young movie star named Dee Moray, who meet by chance in an Italian village. Years later Pasquale comes to Hollywood to find her.

Genre:

The novel has been called historical romance, but it isn’t like most romance novels. It is more about multiple facets of relationships of several characters through a lifetime than a single romance as a major plot line. In the video below, Jess Walter says the novel is a collection of “celebrations of moments,” which seems more appropriate.

Although it does have elements of literary fiction, the novel doesn’t check all those boxes either. It could be labeled as epistolary novel, because it contains excerpts of letters, novels, and screenplays, but only here and there. So, perhaps it should be called a partially epistolary novel with literary elements.

Characters:

Story lines diverge and converge through place and time throughout the book, so it is hard to define one main character. Instead there are several characters who play important roles:  Italian Pasquale Tursi, American actress Dee Moray, a fictionalized version of actor Richard Burton, film producer Michael Deane, his assistant Claire Silver, and writer Shane Wheeler.

Dialogue:

If you want examples of how to write dialogue, this is a perfect novel to study.  Walter gives each character a unique voice, plus he is a master at creating the dynamic tension that drives a great interchange. The conversation between Pasquale and and his friend since childhood, Orenzio, (when actress Dee Moray reveals she loves Pasquale’s eyes) says it all:

“No, she did. She is in love with my eyes”
“You are a liar, Pasqo, and an admirer of boys’ noodles.”
“It is true.”
“That you love boys’ noodles?”
“No. She said that about my eyes.”

Orenzio continues on with a series of inventive and warmly affectionate slurs against his friend as serious Pasquale interrogates him about the actress. It is a joy to read.

Setting of Beautiful Ruins

The characters travel throughout the world, but the two main settings are a small coastal village in Italy and Hollywood, California. Other locations in the novel include Edinburgh, Scotland; Seattle, Washington; Florence, Italy; Portland, Oregon; Truckee, California; and Sandpoint, Idaho.

The descriptions of Italy are particularly luscious. In the video below, Jess Walter explains his wife is of Italian descent, and how the visceral reactions he had when she took him to visit Italy were incorporated into the book.

 

Jess Walter’s responses in this video are full of insights for writers. It is worth the time to watch if you’ve ever thought of becoming a novelist. 

 

About Writing

Floating just under the surface for the most part, but popping up here and there are gems of information about writing. Some of it is in the words themselves. In addition to the pitch-perfect dialogue, Walter mixes things up with style and tone. He writes in present tense in some places and past tense in others. Most of the narrative is in third person point of view, but the first person point of view is included, too. Beginning writers could almost use the novel as a textbook to investigate different elements of writing.

Jess Walter also dabbles in metafiction. Screenwriter Shane Wheeler’s experiences with pitching a movie in many ways mirror pitching a novel to a literary agent. Alvis, a novelist who keeps re-writing the same chapter, may reflect some of the author’s personal struggles. As Jess Walter reveals in the video, it took him 15 years to write and publish Beautiful Ruins. He “hit a stone wall,” put it aside, and then picked it up again later when he had matured as a writer, or had ideas for revising and moving past the problems. Having hit a few walls myself, it was helpful to realize that bestselling authors have overcome the same hurtles.

All in all, Beautiful Ruins has much to offer to readers and writers, alike. If nothing else, it is likely to inspire people to take a trip to Italy.

 

 

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – Discussion begins April 2, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker prize

#BestsellerCode100: Number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walker

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Touted both as literary and a historical romance, Beautiful Ruins follows the lives of five people, including Pasquale Tursi and a young movie star named Dee Moray, who meet by chance in an Italian village. Years later Pasquale comes to Hollywood to find her.

 

beautiful ruins

Have you read Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker? 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

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.

Have you written about Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – Discussion begins April 2, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker prize

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Orphan Train tells the stories of two young “orphan” girls, Vivian and Molly.  Vivian’s story begins in New York City in 1929, months before the Black Friday stock market crash.  We learn of her voyage from Ireland with her family, the tragedy that leaves her essentially orphaned, and then follow her journey when she is placed on a train to the Midwest by the Children’s Aid Society in the hopes of finding a placement family.  Molly’s story of her early years with her parents and her subsequent journey through the foster care system in the present day intertwines with Vivian’s throughout the book.  As unlikely as it might seem, their stories are remarkably similar and creates an unexpected bond of friendship.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Historical Fiction

 As Roberta mentioned in her Writer’s Review, Orphan Train is categorized as Historical Fiction.  Unlike Roberta, though, I am a huge fan of historical fiction and I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for quite some time.  One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that I often learn some previously unknown-to-me historical information, and Orphan Train certainly provided me with that.  I was unfamiliar with the Children’s Aid Society, a non-profit organization formed by Charles Loring Brace in 1853 to ensure the physical well-being of homeless children in New York City (not always orphans) and to provide them with the support and training needed to become successful adults.  Brace felt that placement with a family that could provide work, schooling, and a home situation would be more beneficial to the children than an institutional setting.  He came up with the idea of “orphan trains” – children were placed on a train with Children Aid Society chaperones and taken out of the city to various destinations across the country.  Notices were posted in the destination towns and when the trains arrived, the children were inspected and selected by the prospective foster families – often for the amount of work the child looked capable of handling or a specific talent, such as sewing, rather than for any altruistic desire to provide a loving home.  Baker’s descriptions of Vivian’s early placements with families exposed just how brutal and traumatic those placements could be.

The orphan trains sound like something out of dystopian novel, yet they really did happen.  Over the course of 76 years (the last train run was in 1929), more than 200,000 children rode the trains and began new lives.  Since they were required to leave any and all personal possessions behind, and many were given new first names by their foster or adoptive families, they truly were new lives, for better or worse.

The Children’s Aid Society (now called simply Children’s Aid) is still in existence, providing various support programs (medical, educational, legal, mental health, etc.) to NYC families and children, along with fostering and adoption options. Many of its child welfare programs were considered ground-breaking when begun but commonplace today.  The “fresh air” program is one that I was familiar with while growing up in upstate New York during the 1970s.  Several families I knew would have “fresh air” children from NYC staying with them during the summer.

Unlikely Friends

When we are first introduced to Vivian and Molly, they appear to have nothing in common.  Vivian inherited a business from her parents and she and her now-deceased husband were able to retire to a life of comfort and ease.  At the age of 90, she’s outlived her family and friends and is content to live an isolated life with a housekeeper to cook her meals and maintain the household.  Molly, on the other hand, has bounced around a few foster homes and feels that her current foster situation is tenuous, at best. She’d like to stay where she is currently placed until she “ages out” of the system in another few months, but her present foster mother isn’t really on board with her husband’s desire to foster.  More than once Molly pulls out her duffel bags and begins to pack her belongings while listening to her foster parents argue over whether to keep her.  Life is uncertain at best for Molly.

Molly and Vivian are brought together in a joint effort to clean out Vivian’s cluttered attic, and as Vivian reveals her life’s story bit by bit, Molly’s efforts to maintain an emotional distance from everyone in her life begin to fail.  Christina Baker Kline does a wonderful job of revealing the true essence of these two strong and capable women.

Take Away

Life is not always pleasant and rarely easy if you are an immigrant and/or an orphan child, no matter what time period you live in.  Both Vivian’s and Molly’s stories highlight that, as a child, you have no control and usually very little say over what the adults in your life decide for you.  Yet both of these young girls rise above the trials and traumas of childhood to become strong individuals.  I was struck by their resilience and tenacity.  Orphan Train also illustrates that even the smallest acts of kindness – providing a place to sleep for a few nights, a temporary job, or even just the gift of a book – can give hope and effect real change in the life of an individual, a message we should all take to heart.

 

Have you read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline? 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

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker (2012) – Discussion begins March 19, 2018

Genre:  Historical romance

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Time to discuss the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Niamh/Vivian moved with her parents from Ireland to New York City right before the Great Depression. When she loses her parents, she is put on an orphan train to the Midwest with the hope she will be taken in by a family along the way. A couple does take her in, but her journey is a rocky one. Much later in life she meets foster kid Molly Ayer. Although they are different in age, the two might have some common ground.

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Characters

There are two main characters in this novel.

Niamh/Vivian is primary main character and she narrates the historical timeline. Over the course of the novel she has different names, which reflect changes in her circumstances. As a child in Ireland, she is named Niamh Power. When she first arrives in Minnesota and she’s taken in by a couple, the woman of the house decides to call her Dorothy Nielsen. Later when another couple adopts her, she takes the name of the couple’s deceased child, Vivian Daly. Each time her name changes, it reveals how the process strips away her identity. When she gets on the train, she leaves behind not only a place, but also who she was.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer narrates the modern day timeline (2011). This works well because if Vivian narrated, the reader would learn about things that happened in the past out of order. By having Molly narrate, we discover events as Molly hears about them.

Molly’s father died and her mother spends most of her time in jail or prison, so Molly has been in a series of foster homes. She acts out at times. In fact, she meets Vivian because she needs to do community service for stealing a library book. Her teen character adds just the right touch of modern to the 2011 timeline.

 

Christina Baker Kline orphan Train

Public domain train image from Wikimedia

Setting

The novel begins in Spruce Harbor, Maine in 2011. It then travels back to New York City in 1929, where Niamh/Vivian’s family has arrived from Ireland. Before too long, tragedy strikes, and she finds herself on an orphan train headed to the Midwest.

The rest of the story alternates between Maine in 2011 and several locations in Minnesota.

Symbolism

Niamh’s grandmother gave her a claddagh cross necklace before she left Ireland. What happens to the necklace provides important symbolism in the story. Intertwined with the necklace is Niamh’s perception of her Irish grandmother, which changes as Niamh matures and understands adult relationships in a clearer way. I liked how that growing maturity reflected Niamh’s character arc.

Discussion

Christina Baker Kline has taken on a number of challenges with Orphan Train. She has two main characters, two distinct timelines, and multiple settings to integrate into a single story. It’s a difficult juggling act, but the good news is that she has done an excellent job.

I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction, but this one was engaging. The piece of history Christina Baker Kline chose to reveal was a heartrending one. I admire the author’s ability to immerse the reader in another time, without unintentionally allowing things from the present day to crop in. The contrast between the two timelines was further enhanced by Molly’s narration.

Orphan Train moves forward in a smooth, consistent way, rather like a real train. It knows it’s destination and moves towards it without wandering off the track, taking the reader on an enjoyable and enlightening ride along the way.

 

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker(2012) – Discussion begins March 19, 2018

Genre:  Historical romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 65. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When she was a young orphan in New York City, Niamh/Vivian was put on an orphan train to the Midwest with the idea she would be adopted by a farm family. Much later in life she meets Molly Ayer, who has struggles with the foster system. Although they are different in age, the two might find some common ground.

 

 

Have you read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline? 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

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.

Have you written about Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker(2012) – Discussion begins March 19, 2018
Genre:  Historical romance

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Let’s take a look at the next book on The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, from a writer’s perspective. Be sure to visit Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective as well.

This post contains spoilers.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Lovely Bones is a perfect novel for a writer to study because Alice Sebold has taken some of the more common writing techniques and conventions, and tipped them on their heads. The good news is that the results work beautifully.

Characters

Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is the main character of the book, but she dies at the beginning. How can someone who has died be the main character? How can she have a character arc?

The answer is that for the rest of the story Susie narrates from her own personal heaven. She can observe what happens to those left behind, but no longer participate in the events. Over time, her interpretations of what she sees begins to mature, even though her physical body can no longer do so. This maturing creates the character arc. Plus, although her actions can not drive the story as a main character should, her narration makes it a compelling one.

Beginning novelists are often told to pare down the number of characters in their books. They are advised to combine characters or cut some out. As a result debut novels often have a more limited cast of characters than novels by experienced writers, but again Sebold defies convention. She fills the story with a full complement of characters, from Susie’s family, classmates and friends, teachers, neighbors, to all the people she meets in heaven.  The number of the characters works because it makes it seem like we’re reading about a real community, not a made up one.

Plot

The plot doesn’t follow the standard formula of rising action to climax, either. Instead, the biggest climax/conflict is right up front when Susie is raped and killed. For the most part, this works. The only weakness in the novel — and it is a minor one — is that the author didn’t have a clean climax in the last part to set up a discrete ending, and therefore the story dragged on a bit longer than necessary. If it was my novel, I would have wrapped up when Susie’s father had a heart attack and her mother came back from California. That seemed to be a natural end point. The scene with Ruth and Ray making love, in particular, seemed tacked on and a bit unnecessary.

 

Susie’s favorite flowers are daffodils.

Setting

The setting is fairly ambiguous.  Susie is in “her personal heaven,” which she describes, but which transforms over time. Her family lives in an unnamed suburb somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Whether or not to name real places when writing in the mystery/thriller/suspense area is something authors have to consider. Placing a fictional serial killer in a real town may have an adverse impact on the town. To prevent that, many authors create fictional place names. Instead, Alice Sebold chose to leave the name up to the reader’s imagination. Her choice works because all the incredible physical details she includes make the nameless setting seem real and concrete.

Discussion

The Lovely Bones stands apart because many aspects of the story are surreal and stretch the reader’s imagination, and yet the underlying emotions are true to life. They are raw, real, and gritty. The combination allows the reader to suspend disbelief over some of the more fantastic elements of the story and makes it enjoyable to read.

As novels go, it is completely unique.

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Sebold’s novel was published in 2002 and received several literary awards, including the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel.  I first read this book in 2004 and enjoyed it then.  When I saw it on our reading list I wondered whether it would stand the test of time.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Unique Voice

Alice Sebold has written a unique character in Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who is murdered in the very first chapter and then relates what happens to herself in heaven and her family and friends on earth over the next decade.  Sebold’s take on high school, the way in which Susie’s friends react and cope with her murder, brought back to me much of the angst and joys I experienced in high school.

For a first-time novelist, Sebold has a powerful mastery of descriptive language.  Susie’s version of heaven has an interesting smell…

The air in my heaven often smelled like skunk—just a hint of it. It was a smell that I had always loved on Earth. When I breathed it in, I could feel the scent as well as smell it. It was the animal’s fear and power mixed together to form a pungent, lingering musk.

… and feel.

I turned around and went back to the gazebo. I felt the moist air lace its way up along my legs and arms, lifting, ever so slightly, the ends of my hair. I thought of spider webs in the morning, how they held small jewels of dew, how, with a light movement of the wrist, I used to destroy them without thinking.

It made me wonder what my individual slice of heaven would be like.

The Eyes Have It

They say that eyes are the windows to one’s soul and in The Lovely Bones this is certainly true.  Before her death, Susie dreamed of being a wildlife photographer and her most prized possession was her camera.  Referring to one of the early pictures that Susie took of her mother, Sebold writes:

My mother’s eyes were oceans, and inside them there was loss.

Susie used so many rolls of film that her father made her choose only a few to get developed due to the expense.  Several years after Susie’s murder, and after his wife had abandoned their marriage, her father developed the rest of the rolls.  On the very last roll he discovered a series of photos that Susie took of her mother one day just before her father arrived home from work.  This series of photos is a window to the diminished dreams Abigail experienced as she left behind the world of literature she studied in college and became first a wife, then a mother.  Susie’s father had not been aware of this change in his wife, not until he saw these photos.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my father walk through the side door into the yard.  He carried his slim briefcase, which, years before, Lindsey and I had heatedly investigated only to find very little of interest to use. As he set it down I snapped the last solitary photo of my mother. Already her eyes had begun to seem distracted and anxious, diving under and up into a mask somehow. In the next photo, the mask was almost, but not quite, in place and the final photo, where my father was leaning slightly down to give her a kiss on the cheek—there it was.

“Did I do that to you?” he asked her image as he stared at the pictures of my mother, lined up in a row. “How did that happen?”

He finally comes to understand why his marriage disintegrated after Susie’s death and also, interestingly enough, from those pictures he remembers the woman he first fell in love with and falls in love with her all over again, even though she is totally absent from his life at that point.

Possession, Again?

The only bit of this book that I did not really like was where Susie and her friend Ruth essentially trade places – Susie inhabits Ruth’s body for a short while and Ruth is transported to Susie’s version of heaven.  I didn’t like the whole “inhabited body” thing in The Cross Roads and I didn’t like it here either.  I didn’t understand what Ruth was doing in heaven (Ruth was the most unusual and difficult to comprehend character in the novel), and I felt that the whole scene with Susie in Ruth’s body having a relationship with her old school sweetheart was rather gratuitous on Sebold’s part.

Lovely Bones

Upon reading the book description, you expect that the  title The Lovely Bones refers in some way to Susie’s dismemberment, although how that could be considered lovely baffles the mind.  In the very last chapter, though, we learn that Sebold uses bones as a metaphor for the bonds that hold Susie’s family together.

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.

I’m glad this book was on our list and provided me with the opportunity to read it again.  I appreciated Sebold’s writing much more the second time around.

 

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? 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

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon watches from heaven as events unfold after her rape and murder.

Published in 2002, this is one of the older books on our challenge list. It is Alice Sebolt’s debut novel, although she had already published a memoir, Lucky. It won a Bram Stoker award and was made into a movie.

 

 

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? 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

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Two Novels by Dean Koontz

To do something a bit different, I decided to compare and contrast two thrillers by Dean Koontz from a writer’s perspective.  The Darkest Evening of the Year, published in 2007, is the most recent novel we’ve been reading for the Bestseller Code Challenge. The Whispering Room:  A Jane Hawk Novel is Koontz’s newest novel, published in 2O17.

This post contains spoilers.

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Amy Redwing has devoted her life to rescuing golden retrievers. When she puts herself in danger to save Nickie, she develops a special bond with the dog. But now someone is after Amy. Who is going to rescue whom?

The Whispering Room: A Jane Hawk Novel

(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Jane Hawk is an FBI agent who has uncovered evidence of an evil organization which is brainwashing innocent people and forcing them to carry out crimes. Things go wrong when she tries to expose their plot and she becomes a fugitive from the law.

Genre:

Although both of the novels are squarely in the thriller genre, The Darkest Evening could be considered to be a psychological thriller with paranormal elements, whereas The Whispering Room is a conspiracy thriller set in the near future, which causes it to cross into science fiction.

At the time Dean Koontz began writing, agents advised writers to stick to the rules of a certain genre, because booksellers organized novels by genre on the bookshelves. If the bookseller didn’t know where to put a book, it was less likely to sell well.

Koontz was willing to break those rules from the start. Now it is much more common to see novels that are a mix of genres, and I think that is because few books are actually organized on bookshelves any more. The online bookstores have changed how we buy books and also how we write them.

 

Characters:

Both novels feature a strong female protagonists. They both were married, but are no longer with their husbands. They’ve also had children. Amy’s child was killed, and Jane’s child is staying with friends to keep him out of harm’s way. Both protagonists have a male partner who assists them.

The novels have multiple antagonists, with different reasons for endangering the protagonists.  Koontz’s bad buys are really nasty. They will make you squirm in your seat and possibly give you nightmares.

Setting:

The Darkest Evening is set in California in the area around Newport Beach and Lake Elsinore. In The Whispering Room, Jane Hawk travels around the country. The setting isn’t particularly well developed in either novel. Instead there’s a general feeling that evil is lurking around every corner.

Discussion:

Shared themes:

Fire is a strong theme in both books. In The Darkest Evening one of the antagonists, Moongirl, regularly sets fires.  There is a gruesome scene in Chapter 12, where she and another antagonist, Harrow, burn down a house with innocent people inside. They ignite the fire using gasoline.

The Whispering Room starts with Cora Gundersun dreaming that she is walking through fire without burning. In Chapter 17, she loads her SUV with 15 cans of gasoline. After setting the gas on fire, she drives into the front of a hotel restaurant, where her vehicle explodes. It turns out she was an innocent person who had been brainwashed into committing a horrific crime.

Other similarities are more subtle. For example, in The Whispering Room, as Cora drives toward the hotel she sees a golden retriever on a leash. Of course, golden retrievers figure prominently in The Darkest Evening and are, in fact, Koontz’s favorite breed of dog.  I suspect that the dog is Koontz’s way of giving a little present to his loyal fans.

He also has a character named Luther in both books.

Little Mysteries:

Dean Koontz is a master at dropping in little mysteries to entice the reader to keep reading. For example, in an early scene Brian receives a threatening email that mentions “Piggie.” The reader wonders who sent it and who Piggie is. Clues are sprinkled until it is finally revealed what is going on. He is brilliant at building these kind of questions in the reader’s mind, making it impossible to put the book down once you’ve started.

I’ve been aware that Dean Koontz was a bestselling author for years, but hadn’t read any of his books until recently. Now I can understand why he has such a loyal following and I hope to read more of his books in the future.

Have you read The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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__________________

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. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002) – Discussion begins February 19, 2018
Mix of genres

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