Category Archives: Book Club of One

Wordy and spoilery reviews books chosen for a variety of excessively explained reasons.

Daphne Du Maurier and Memory Lane

Rebecca is one of my absolute favorite books. For realz and all that. It’s up there, in fact, with My Cousin Rachel, which is a book I haven’t read in a long time but which the mere typing the name of makes me long for. I have very fond memories of a book that I would swear is Du Maurier’s The Loving Spirit, although I can’t be sure; the scene I remember most vividly is not referred to in any book summaries I see online. (Note to self: reread this book.) I even remember Rule, Britannia on my parents’ bookshelf when I was in junior high or high school and read it (right around when I read The Moon Is Down by Steinbeck, neither of which I remember). And then I had the good fortune to end up with a roommate after college who liked reading and always ended up in thrift stores and used book shops, and we both had quite a Du Maurier thing going on for a while (Jamaica Inn!).

A few weeks ago, as friends do, we were talking about this and that and somehow a conversation got onto the topic of medieval England (probably via Game of Thrones, which she hasn’t watched), which led to The House on the Strand, a book we shared as roommates and read at least more than once each. Determined to be wowed all over again, and relive the glory days when we were hip girls about town living on the beach next to some really noisy people who were pathologically uncomfortable being alone (I’m looking at you, Kristen and Jeff from Felspar Street! You’re the one who really liked Dave Matthews and I’m the one with that ceramic candle holder that had two faces on it that were always staring at you…), I borrowed it from the library. When I went to retrieve it, another Du Maurier book I’d missed along the way–Mary Anne–was sitting right next to it on the shelf.

Yay!

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Some Things I Did You Don’t Know About

1. I read Clash of Kings, the second installment of the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin. I liked it while I was reading it, and I honest to goodness cannot tell you why or what I liked about it and I’d forgotten all about having read it. I had been really excited about more Danaerys because she was such a favorite character in the first book (and the first season of the HBO series), and I was very, very disappointed in her appearances. Also, there were like forty extra pages of appendix and excerpt material at the end of the book, and I was really sad when the book ended about forty pages earlier than I thought. I’d sort of hunkered down in a cozy place to finish out the book, and although it wasn’t a terrible ending, I was not prepared for my cozy reading evening to be interrupted like that.

2. I totally got tools out of the garage and busted into a bedroom that had locked and shut itself and drilled right right through the doorknob to get the damn thing opened. Nobody really knows when the door was locked on account of it having been latched into an open position, and unlatching the door to vacuum behind it set it free. While we were out, a cross breeze did us in. It wasn’t even one of those locks you could pop open from the outside with a tiny screwdriver or anything; this had tumblers and pins for some unfathomable reason). I mean, I can fathom why a door lock had tumblers and pins; I cannot fathom why a lock of this caliber had been installed on this door in the first place. It’s the other bedroom that has the wet bar in it. I cannot fathom why we didn’t replace this door knob when we replaced the door knob on the bathroom after the baby locked himself in it. (He played happily with the toilet paper the whole time I was removing the door knob.) I suppose we’d gotten used to the door being latched open (I was so sick of that door slamming shut in a room that had no need for privacy) that we’d just forgotten about it.

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Little Bee

By Chris Cleave


Why I Chose This Book

Book club book! But this time it’s one that we didn’t read for book club (we read Water for Elephants instead, which I reviewed already). It was my first choice, however, and so I put my name on the reserve list at the library for it. It was a long list, so it was just as well that I didn’t have a deadline, because it’s not a book I retrospectively would have been especially happy to own. If I have to own books, I want them big and fat and epic and take me at least a week to reread. This one does not fit those requirements.

Why I Chose Right Now to Review This Book

Book club is tonight, which means that we’re going to discuss some other title and then move our brains onto the next one, and I can already feel my thoughts about this one slipping away. It gets worse when they go back to the library before I write about them, too. Plus the kids are playing Legos and watching Dora and because book club is tonight thinking about dinner is not my problem, and I can take a shower later. Today, I write!

Nutshell Review of the Book

I liked it fine. How’s that? The three main characters (Sarah, Little Bee, Lawrence) were sympathetic enough, and the two secondary characters (Andrew and Charlie) did their job of being people triggering events that gave the main characters something to do. The locations were vivid in a way I don’t usually notice in books, and I won’t tell you what amazing secret the blurb on the cover begs readers not to spoil for others, but it was a dumb thing to say. It’s not a dumb secret, but it’s hardly some big reveal that upends your understanding of the whole book to that point. Kaiser Sose it ain’t. Actually, I’m not even sure what event in the book it’s supposed to refer to. Regardless, it’s a pretty good guarantee that readers will finish the book.

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Ali and Nino

By Kurban Said

Why I Chose This Book

Book club book! It’s the one I voted for, actually, because I already had a copy of Dead Until Dark lying around the house that I know I’ll get to one day, and I didn’t really want to read The Distant Land of My Father because, well, I thought it was a memoir and was not in a memoir mood. I’ve since become more intrigued by it, but what can you do now?

Why I Chose Right Now to Review This Book

I started this review about a week ago, when I’d finished the book, but got distracted. Now I find out my book club friend hasn’t even gotten a hold of the book yet, and I’m loaning it to her tomorrow, and I figured I’d better write out my notes while I still had it around for reference, in case I needed to look up names and things. So much easier to open a book than dig info out of the Internet.

Nutshell Review of the Book

The story was pretty good to OK, but shines as an artifact. It was written in the 1930s as a historical novel set in the 19teens (right before WWI), in a specific geographic location: the intersection of Asia and Europe, in a town unsure of which continent was its primary influence. I was impressed with the diversity of locations and lifestyles presented in the book, and the style of the novel was easy to follow. The main character, Ali (a Muslim boy), was quite well fleshed-out, although everyone else was less so. It is called a “great romance” by the book cover blurbs, but, eh. Ali certainly has great love for Nino (a Christian girl), but we only get glimpses of her from his point of view. There is enough to suggest that she is a fully fledged person, but the reader doesn’t really experience her as a fully fledged character. She speaks up for herself often enough, but always to Ali, so what you get of her comes through his filter. You kind of have to trust him for why he’s so in love with her (besides the fact that he’s a young, rich son in love with his pretty, rich high school sweetheart whose parents consider them old enough to marry, which is the perfect set up for instant romance). And he does a lot of courageous things to be with her, so he’s really, really sincere, and he does think a lot about how she’ll react to plans he makes for them, which lets you know she speaks up for herself, but she’s not really in the book with us.

Long story short, your enjoyment of the novel will likely depend on your interest in this guy’s point of view, and your interest in the historical portrayal of a Eurasia populated by Muslims and Christians on the verge of war. Personally, I think the historical part is what the book has going for it. I did get pretty tired of Ali by the end.

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The Land of Painted Caves

By Jean M. Auel


Why I Chose This Book
Are you kidding me? I read the first installment of this series, Clan of the Cave Bear, when I was 11. Posting at The AuelBoard forum (Member #2375) got me through two bad jobs and whatever temp worker assignment came with internet access. I loved these books. Well, not the fifth one. But it was my Solemn Duty to follow the story to its end.

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Pottermore: The Saturation Point. By “The” I Mean “My.”

I just accidentally found out about Pottermore. Guess what it means? More Harry Potter! In the form of more backstory explaining more answers to all your questions. Worried that you would never find out exactly why so and so did such and such? Tired of speculating about it with fan friends? Losing sleep in the middle of the night because new theories occurred to you that fit textual evidence and opened up new possibilities about characters and their motivations? Well, worry, tire, and lose sleep no more! JK Rowling is thoughtfully creating a new online experience to put to good use all those pages of background information that didn’t make the cut into the books (for lots of reasons, as many of them literary as practical).

Because I am not on any of the mailing lists, I have not been aware that I should be hotly anticipating the launch of this mysterious project that people were suspecting would expand the Potter universe. How expansive Pottermore will be remains to be seen; right now the only option is to register your interest, and there’s an invitation to return July 31, 2011 for more details. The whole shebang is scheduled to open in October.

Click here before proceeding.

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Possession

By A. S. Byatt


Why I Chose This Book
A long, long time ago I owned a copy of this book. Perhaps I received it as a gift or hand-me-down. Read it. Loved it! Not sure why I didn’t write about it. (Perhaps I hadn’t started a blog yet.) Anyway, a few weeks ago now a crate of books came my way (it’s where I got Mirror, Mirror from) and Possession was among the lot. I think, seriously, that it was my copy of Possession that I’d passed along to my mother that she never read that ended up in that crate–and a visit to the garage library sorted first by genre then author reveals that my copy of Possession is not on the shelves–but I rescued it and read it again, because, well, I love academic mysteries, particularly fictional ones. And I also had some free time.

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Mirror, Mirror

By Gregory Maguire


Why I Chose This Book
I had no business reading this book with so many other books ahead of it on the list! But I inherited this milk crate of books that I have been driving around with in the trunk of my car for a week or two, and because the top row was a lot of mystery novels, including a bunch of books in a series of Dutch crime novels (*shudder*), I didn’t really dig through it with much interest. But then there I was on Saturday at some kid’s birthday party in the park, and I was packing up the chairs and tables with help, and the guy noticed the crate of books, and I sent him home with <em>Seabiscuit</em> and opened up the second layer. There was some actual fiction in there, and so I brought a few into the house. Sunday ended up being both a busier and a lazier day than anticipated, and the living room was so clean and sunny, and I blew through it basically in a day.

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Water for Elephants

By Sara Gruen

Why I Chose This Book
Real life book club was last night, and this was our selection. I’d voted for Little Bee by Chris Cleave because of it had culture clashes in it, and a beach (I’d just unexpectedly bought cheap tickets to Hawaii and had tunnel vision). And even though The Help (Kathryn Stockett) had been so highly recommended to me by other people, something about the publisher’s book description irritated the crap out of me that day so I made it my third choice. The only thing I had against Elephants going into the book was the glut of fashion magazine covers featuring the leads that I’ve been walking past for months, and I already had a copy in the house. I was happy to read it.

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The Plague

By Albert Camus (Translated by Stuart Gilbert)

Why I Chose This Book
Way back in high school, in twelfth grade, when I was still Hot Stuff, we read Camus’s The Stranger for the International Baccalaureate literature class. One of the assignments that came from the IB people was to write an addition to the text in the style of Camus that could be inserted into the story. I wrote a piece that fit into some scene where the protagonist meets some woman at the beach and basically hooks up with her and I incorporated the word “breasts” and the whole thing was well-received. I remember very little else of the book but it left me with a favorable impression of the author. I’ve always intended to go back to him. And finding myself as I so often do wandering through the sci-fi shelves at the library growing vaguely dissatisfied with the selections, picking up and putting back a few end-of-the-world epidemic kinds of stories put me most recently in mind of the book. I had to request it from another branch, though. That detail is not pertinent.

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