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This year, I am making a study of the opening lines of novels.
Book Club Selection for January 2011
First line: “If Patty weren’t an atheist, she’d thank the good Lord for school athletic programs, because they basically saved her life and gave her a chance to realize herself as a person.”
Book Club Selection for November
First line: “Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking.”
I liked this book a lot, until the last 30 or 40 pages. The book was witty in that British way I like, and also somewhat romantic. There was some good character development, at least in the title character, but the other characters were more one-dimensional than he, less fleshed out. The wrap-up of the story was a bit unbelievable, and a bit too tidy for my tastes. There was also a scene where two characters do some things that were, until that point, completely out of character for them, and that came off a little cheesy. But it was a pleasant read and it kept me turning the pages. I would recommend it in general.
First line: “Those old cows knew trouble was coming beffore we did.”
Book Club selection for October
I don’t get why Jeannette Walls is such a big deal as far as the publishing industry goes. Her writing is sparse, but not in a good way. This one is a “true life novel” I imagine because she couldn’t get away with the liberties she likely took for The Glass Castle in the wake of the Million Little Pieces scandal. Overall, I felt this read like a juvenile novel. The descriptions were lacking, and there was no real central conflict to tie the whole thing together or to keep a reader like me wanting to turn the pages. The main character was overly plucky to the point of cliche. I only finished it so that I could contribute to the conversation at our book club meeting.
First line: “The plane had yet to take off, but Osgood, the photographer, was already snoring softly.
Like many readers of Water for Elephants, I anxiously awaited Sara Gruen’s follow-up novel. I was so excited when the book came in the mail, and I really wanted to like it, but ultimately, it fell flat.
The parts with the bonobos are interesting, but the parts that sit in between those (the latter making up the bulk of the novel) border on melodramatic chic-lit schlock that at times feels contrived and cliché.
At the beginning of the book, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer named John Thigpen makes a connection with the head researcher, Isabel Duncan while he’s writing a story about the apes. Then he goes home to his wife, Amanda, who is suffering severe depression after a series of her own professional failures. They both have dysfunctional relationships with their parents, and perhaps Gruen was trying to say something there about family relationships of humans as compared to those of apes, but the connection between those two ideas was a bit frayed and not really clear.
I won’t go into too many plot details, at the risk of giving anything away. However, I must say that ultimately Amanda comes across as fairly unbalanced, and she and John end up having a pretty contrived kind of fight near the end of the novel that didn’t make a whole lot of sense nor did it tie into the main plot.
Isabel has her own relationship issues going on, and those were also thinly drawn and hard to connect to on any level other than that they have been explored a million times before. Many of the peripheral characters are only there to move the plot to its predictable conclusion, an as a result, come across more as caricatures than something real or relatable.
This novel read more like a Lifetime movie than something more serious or deep enough for detailed book club discussion. As I said at the beginning of this review, I really wanted to like this book, however it left me profoundly disappointed.
First line: “There’s a photo of a woman on my wall I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.”
This novel was just okay. It had a very British kind of writing style that I liked. But overall, it sagged in spots. The tortoise disappears for a while, and the author makes a deal of its disappearance, but that’s never explained, and if it was some kind of metaphor, it was lost on me. Plus, what was with all the references to constipation? Is that a British thing I am not aware of?
I really enjoyed this one, despite the fact that it was not wholly unpredictable. It’s a story of love, betrayal and redemption, all wrapped in the frozen landscape of early twentieth-century Wisconsin. Each character is indelibly flawed, and yet I found myself liking them, rooting for them even, and I thought Goolrick did a good job of showing how the characters developed over time, came to grow and learn from their experiences with each other. It would make a good book club book too.
First line: “It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.”
I really enjoyed this one a lot. Another fun read, it was hip and hilarious, full of likable characters and interesting scenes. It’s hard to describe. It follows quite a few characters during a time period that begins in the 1980s and ends somewhere in the near future, a time when people will stand next face-to-face and text to, rather than converse with, each other.
First line: “What about a tea kettle?”
Okay, I know this book is supposed to be extremely hip and incredibly written, but personally, I couldn’t finish it. I tried, I really did. I have now tried to read this thing three times, and this time, I got to within a hundred pages of the end, but you know what, ultimately I didn’t find the main character believable at all. He’s like seven, or maybe 9 (?) but he goes on and on like he’s thirty, and while I could believe that a kid in NYC would be precocious, I found it hard to believe that he would really be in touch with some of the ideas the narrator expressed.
Could be me though. In general, I don’t like adult books that are narrated by children. I find it hard to identify with the perspective, so take my opinion for what it is.
Book Club Selection for August
First line: “Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work.”
I read this one last summer. Check Books 2009 for my review.
First line: “I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died”– a widow, eighty years old.”
I liked this one a lot. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, and I also like when these stories take place in China, so I can’t tell you why it took me so long to pick this one up. Anyway, I did enjoy it, even found it romantic, though it was a love story between two friends. If anything, I wish the narrator had told us more details about her marriage, but that wasn’t what the story was about.
The scenes involving the foot binding were painful to read, but only because the narrator’s experience with the custom was told in such vivid, accessible detail.
First line: “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.”
This was a fun read, typical Nick Hornby fare, very hip, lots of humor, best parts involved the reclusive rock legend.
Book Club Selection for July
First line: “Those who saw him hushed.”
First line: “There were years after it happened, after I’d returned from the town and come back here to the busy blank of the city, when some comment would be tossed off about the Second World War and how it had gone — some idiotic remark about clarity and purpose — and I’d resist the urge to stub out my cigarette and bring the dinner party to a satisfying halt.”
Beautifully written, and moving, this one brought me to tears several times while I was reading it, and even once while discussing it later. As I read often while on the lifecycle at the gym, this was a bit embarrassing.
Tells the story of several people from a small town right before America gets involved in WWII, though it also ventures to Europe, mostly London during the Blitz.
First line: “Henry Archer did not attend his ex-wife’s husband’s funeral, but he did send a note of condolence.”
Good beach read, nice and light, just the thing I have needed lately. Tells the story of a gay man, estranged from the stepdaughter he lost in a divorce 25 years ago, and how they help each other lead more fruitful lives.
Book Club Selection for April
First line: “Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl.”
Heartbreaking novel about a teenage Nigerian immigrant in London. I enjoyed it the first half, though as I think I have mentioned in other reviews, I had a hard time relating to the relationship troubles of the two characters who were cheating on their spouses. That’s just my own thing though.
The reviews all say that they can’t say too much, or they will spoil the “surprise” ending. I did not see any surprise there, though the end did have me on the edge of my seat because I had come to love Little Bee and feared for her fate.
There were other problems I had though — and it would be hard for me to go into without “spoiling” it, but I have to say that none of the characters besides Little Bee and the women she leaves the Immigration Detention Center with were very likable. Sarah, the main woman, I felt, was a terrible mother and a completely unbelievable or relatable character. Her lover, the one with whom she is having an extra-marital affair, is a totally wet blanket. I didn’t understand why she would be with him or why I should care that she was. And her kid had mental problems that she obviously wasn’t addressing, but the writer made it seem like it was normal for a kid to dress as Batman all the time.
Overall, it was one of those books that the more I thought about, the more problems I had.