Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

1998. Scribner. Hardcover. 529 pages.

From: public library

Recommended by: Samantha of Booked on a Feeling

Review:

Bag of Bones is about a widowed author who retreats to his lakeside cabin only to find that the cabin is inhabited by at least one ghost. He also meets and falls for a young widowed mother and her daughter, who are threatened by the child’s wealthy paternal grandfather, who is seeking custody.

This is the second novel I’ve read by Stephen King. I read this horror novel in October, with the RIP (Readers in Peril) Challenge in mind, though I never officially signed up for it.

I have a soft spot for stories about men who become surrogate father figures, and so I loved that the relationship Mike Noonan and three-year-old Kyra Devore was at the forefront of the story.

I was not a fan of the disturbing graphic scenes, including one that is a weird sexual dream sequence and another that is a stomach-turning act of violence from the past that started a chain reaction of supernatural malevolence.

Stephen King’s writing is what I might call overstuffed. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Basically, his writing is a stew that he throws lots of ingredients into and some bites of it are better than others. There are observations about everyday life, about Maine, about writing, about spousal relationships. There are recurring references to other stories, from the first line of de Maurier’s Rebecca to a Ray Bradbury story about aliens. Some of the comparison, tangents, and whatnot work for me and others don’t, and it seems that might vary from reader to reader.

Excerpts from other book reviews:

Betsy’s Blog II – “The reader is drawn deep into the world of the characters while at the same time being swept along by the story – reading a Stephen King novel is something like stepping into a river and getting stuck in the current.”

The Lone Writer – “As a whole, King’s penchant for detail does serve a purpose but the monotony of it really slows the story down.”

Lovely Little Shelf – “overall I think that this is one of Stephen King’s stronger books even though it’s usually overlooked.”

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Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal, Mysteries & Thrillers

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

2009. Berkley. Paperback. 534 pages.

From: borrowed from co-worker who was borrowing from her sister

In a nutshell:

In case you do not know the plot of this omnipresent book, it is the story of Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Aibileen and Minny are two black women who work as maids in Jackson, Mississippi, in the year 1962. They are good friends, despite differences in age, personality and family situation. Skeeter (whose real first name is Eugenia) is a young white woman come home to Jackson, looking to become a writer. Sparked by the mysterious disappearance of her family’s maid Constantine, Skeeter tries to enlist Aibileen and other maids to tell their stories to her, which she hopes to make into a book. The book’s narrative is told from the first person perspectives of all three women in turn.

Backstory and brief thoughts:

I went into The Help with a skepticism fueled by its wild popularity and by its status as the current queen of book club books. I have not had success with book club favorites in the past; Water for Elephants, The Secret Life of Bees, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter were all flops for me.

My co-worker Kim asked me earlier this year if I had read The Help. I had not. We discovered that we shared a mutual wariness about the book. For a book that neither of us had read, we talked about it quite a bit over the course of some weeks. The film was just about to come out, and we talked about the articles that we had read about The Help (book and film). I won’t deny that we particularly took notice of the ones that confirmed that the story wasn’t awesome as the hype would have us believe.

Finally, one day, Kim said to me, “look what I have” and held up a copy of The Help that her sister had lent her. Co-worker Jen meanwhile had borrowed the audiobook from the library and was listening to it on her commute. When Kim was partway through it, she said, a little guiltily, “Would it be bad if I liked the book?” Jen and I assured her that it would be okay.

After Kim was done, it was my turn. After her reaction, I wasn’t surprised to find that it is a likable book. I know some readers don’t like books in dialect, but that isn’t something that’s come up for me before, so it wasn’t an issue. I was more concerned that it was going to be pandering, or that its approach to race relations would involve Skeeter as a white savior character. But actually Skeeter has her own prejudices and ignorance to overcome. And there is one scene where she offers to pull some family influence to help in a maid’s crisis, but is told (not meanly) that won’t be necessary.

Aibileen’s perpetual dilemma of raising white children who grow up to despise her for the color of her skin was perhaps the most compelling storyline for me. I liked the way that storyline highlighted the incredible way in which people can be so intertwined in each others’ lives and yet one side still insists on ridiculous, senseless boundaries.

The book has been reviewed so thoroughly that I don’t feel driven to discuss the novel in great depth. I just thought I’d share the story of how this holdout finally gave in and enjoyed The Help. If you have any questions about what I thought about specific aspects, ask away in the comments.

Excerpts from other reviews:

The Reading Ape – “Reading about racism in the South during the Civil Rights Movement feels almost like a moral holiday, a reprieve from the complexity and intransigence of contemporary racism. Thus, the frustration of The Help is that while it is very readable and rich, it is, for a book about racism, unbelievably safe.”

Rebecca Reads – “I felt drawn in to the setting; it was like I was in Jackson, Mississippi. I liked that, and as my story above attests, I couldn’t stop reading this book once I started. I wanted to know how it all worked out . . .”

write meg! – “An important novel that tackles Major Issues that still manages to be entertaining, lively, affecting and unbelievably moving? It’s a rare find, friends, and it gets my absolute highest recommendation.”

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Filed under Historical Fiction

Blogger game night and a blog anniversary

I realized today that my blog is just over two years old, as of November 4th! Fittingly, on November 6th, I had my first in-person get-together with other book-bloggers.

Thanks to Thomas of My Porch for hosting a game night at his home, which was complete with a great library, delicious food, and the lovely large-eared Lucy who hopefully pleaded with her eyes for people food (we managed to resist her somehow). Bloggers Teresa of Shelf Love and Frances of Nonsuch Book had met Thomas before, so I was the new face. But it doesn’t take long to become comfortable among book-loving people.

The game at hand was called The Great Penguin Bookchase, which was kind of like a bookish Trivial Pursuit. Our playing pieces were tiny bookcases and our object was to win six even tinier books which each represented a different book genre/category (e.g. sci-fi & adventure, poetry and plays) . The questions ranged in difficulty, with a few featuring authors and books of which we had never heard. Playing the game was diverted by the swapping of opinions on certain books (everyone), by the retrieval of the Maigret mysteries from Thomas’ bookshelves (I hadn’t heard of the author’s name before), and by the checking and updating of Twitter (that was Frances). For the record, Teresa won (partially by absconding with books from her fellow players, per game card instructions). The game continued with rules eventually discarded in favor of answering more book trivia rather than picking up cards or wandering around the board.

During the post-game, pre-departure discussion, it was revealed that I did not own any Persephone books. I was encouraged to sign up for the Persephone Secret Santa, hosted by Claire of Paperback Reader, which I did that night to make the deadline. I’m looking forward to participating as I’ve only read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and have heard many good things about Persephone’s other titles.

I very much enjoyed the bookish get-together. I haven’t been able to be as engaged in the book blogging community as I was when I first started, and meeting Thomas, Teresa and Frances helped me feel not so distant.

Sort of in that vein, I was thinking that for my belated blogiversary, I would solicit a little feedback on my blog as a whole. As it is now, my blog is basically straight-up book reviews, with the occasional photo or personal post. It’s hard for me to tell if I’m coming off as too impersonal (as I sometimes suspect I am) or if it is fine the way it is. The point of the blog is definitely all about the books, but I know from my own blog-reading experience and from what others have said, that we like to connect with the personality behind the reviews as well. So let me know what you think about that.

In the meantime, I have a small backlog of reviews to be written which I’ll get around to in my regular, slowish pace. It’s probably a good thing to have a backlog right now, as I’m currently halfway through Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, which is wonderful but also very long.

Thanks to everyone who reads my blog, and especially for the times you’ve left a comment or otherwise told me what you thought about a review or a book I mentioned. I look forward to the books that I’ll read and share with you in the future!

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