Monday, June 18, 2012

State of Wonder - Ann Patchett

Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Paperback: 353 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Published date: May 2012 (Hardcover 2011)
FTC: Received for review for TLC Book Tours

Ann Patchett is up there on my list of favorite authors.  I absolutely devoured and cried over Bel Canto.  I reviewed her novel Run a few years ago and I can still remember the characters as if I saw it as a movie. You can always count on Ann Patchett's books as being beautifully written. They do not disappoint.

I haven't finished State of Wonder yet.  (I finished!) I have family in town and it's just been busy.  But.  I can already tell that this is Ann Patchett's best novel yet.  It's going to be my favorite novel of hers as well.  Wow.

This is the type of book that you want to stay up all night reading.  You want to shirk off all responsibilities and just read State of Wonder all the time -- over dinner, while waiting at doctor's office, getting up early before your child wakes up.  It's that good.

I will be adding to my review in the next few days as I finish up the book.  In the meantime, here is the synopsis:

The back of the book:

In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infected Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle.  Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest's jeweled canopy.

My thoughts:

I finally was able to have some me time and finish this beautiful book. Sigh.  I love delving into books like these and meeting wonderful characters and armchair traveling to exotic places.

While I wanted to read this book because of the Amazonian location, I ended up loving this book because of the characters.  Dr. Swenson is an epic antagonistic character.

"Just the thought of Dr. Swenson gave Marina the sensation of a cold hand groping for her heart." p. 10

"A tiny woman made tinier by distance fixes one hundred people to their seats with a a voice that never troubles itself to be raised, and because they are all afraid of her and because they are afraid of missing anything she might say, they stay as long as she chooses to keep them." p. 11

Awesome right?  So this is the formidable seventy-something year-old lady Marina is sent to find deep in the Amazonian jungle.

Ann Patchett has a way with most of her novels at really making me feel emotionally connected to the story and the characters.  At the beginning of State of Wonder, Marina's co-worker, Anders, had previously been sent to find out the status of Dr. Swenson's study in the Amazon when they get the news of his death.  Marina is sucked into telling the wife and mother of three boys that her husband will not be coming back.

Marina is then tasked with the job of traveling in Ander's footsteps - heading from Minnesota to Manaus and the jungle of the Amazon.  I loved her description of the almost claustrophobic feeling of the jungle, the humidity, the bugs, the side effects of taking the malaria pills.

"She felt the plant life pressing against the edges of the water, straining towards them, every root and tendril reaching..." p. 183

But the real reason I love and read Patchett's books are the characters.  The Bovenders: the beautiful blonde couple who are set up in Manaus by Dr Swenson to deflect anyone who comes looking for the doctor.  Easter: the deaf native boy Dr Swenson's team practically adopts.  Milton: the loyal cab driver and all-around helper.  I even came to love Anders, who we get to know by his constant letters to his wife and his devotion to helping Easter write and communicate.

Does Ann Patchett deliberately pull heart-strings in her novels? Absolutely. Do I mind? Not at all.

The paperback version:

The jungle surrounds the cover and back and even wraps around into the flaps.  It's beautifully made and really conveys the claustrophobic feeling Marina and Anders felt:


Tuesday, May 8th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, May 9th: Take Me Away
Monday, May 14th: Proud Book Nerd
Tuesday, May 15th: Tiramisu Mom
Wednesday, May 16th: Jo-Jo Loves to Read!
Friday, May 18th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, May 22nd: Lit and Life
Wednesday, May 23rd: Shall Write
Thursday, May 24th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, May 30th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, May 31st: Paperback Princess
Thursday, June 7th: Dolce Bellezza
Monday, June 11th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, June 12th: Amused By Books
Thursday, June 14th: missris
Friday, June 15th: Book Him Danno!
Monday, June 18th: A Library of My Own
Friday, June 22nd: My Bookshelf
Tuesday, June 19th: The Scarlet Letter
Wednesday, June 27th: Man of La Book

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Brand New Human Being - Emily Jeanne Miller

Title: Brand New Human Being
Author: Emily Jeanne Miller
Hardcover: 272 pages
My version: NetGalley eBook
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published date: June 12, 2012
FTC: Received eGalley to review for TLC Tours

I'll admit right here and now that when I decided to pick up my iPhone to start reading Brand New Human Being I was not happy that I had agreed to read this book for TLC Book Tours.  I mean, I can't stand novels about infidelity and all that stuff.  My other qualm was that I had accepted my first NetGalley book and I wasn't quite sure if that was the format for me.

BUT!!  I started reading the book and was completely sucked into the story.  The novel ended up being quite a bit different than what I had expected: the writing was beautiful and it completely absorbed me into the life of Logan Pyle.  Since the book came out just yesterday, I'd say this is the perfect intelligent beach read that you could probably share with your husband on vacation.

The synopsis from TLC:

Meet Logan Pyle, a lapsed grad student and stay-at-home dad who's holding it together by a thread. His father, Gus, has died; his wife, Julie, has grown distant; his four-year-old son has gone back to drinking from a bottle.  When he finds Julie kissing another man on a pile of coats at a party, the thread snaps.  Logan packs a bag, buckles his son into his car seat, and heads north with a 1930s Louisville Slugger in the back of his truck, a maxed-out credit card in his wallet, and revenge in his heart.

After some bad decisions and worse luck, he lands at his father's old A-frame cabin, where his father's young widow, Bennie, now lives. She has every reason to turn Logan away, but when she doesn't, she opens the door to unexpected redemption -- for both of them.

A deftly plotted exploration of marriage, family, and the road from child to parent, Brand New Human Being is a page-turning debut that overflows with heart and grace.

My thoughts:

You might be wondering why I agreed to read a book I was reluctant to pick up in the first place.  Well...all the reasons why I agreed to read Brand New Human Being were the reasons I ended up really enjoying it.

I was intrigued that Emily Jeanne Miller, obviously a woman, would write solely in the perspective of a father.  I am quite curious to read a review from a male reader, perhaps a father as well.  I think she did a fabulous job of getting into the head of Logan Pyle.  His obvious grief over his larger-than-life father, his concern over the well-being of his only child who is regressing, his denial that his small business is failing, his marital drift from his wife who seems to be more concerned with her legal case than her family -- it just seemed that I was smack, right there in his head.  It's beautifully well-written.

I was also interested in the idea of a man struggling with the stay-at-home job.  It was quite an interesting perspective since I too am a stay-at-home mom.  I've realized over the year that there are so many many ways of raising a child and most of us are just trying to do what we think is right.  That said, there were many times I wanted to slap Logan and tell him to stop pushing his kid.  I remember mentioning to my husband the other night to NEVER call our kid "champ" or force him into an activity or sport he hates.

And my concern about it being a book about infidelity was unfounded. I love that she was able to write the scene with Julie making a big mistake and how it broke Logan without the story having to go all the way to full out affair.  My only problem with the story is that being told only in Logan's perspective, I never really understood or even really liked Julie. I wanted to yell at her to stop working so much and actually spend some time with her son and husband...and to talk!  She just didn't seem very understanding.

Last but not least, the end of the story.  I felt a little like I was hanging -- it wasn't a "happily ever after" ending or anything -- but then again neither is life.  So it worked.  The story is about flawed imperfect people doing stupid things sometimes but at least they were trying to make it work.  That's what made it a perfectly great story.

Side note:

As I said, this is my first NetGalley book.  I found that reading the format on my iPhone was a LOT different than reading library eBooks.  Instead of the pages being formated for my iPhone screen, the eGalley is like a snapshot of the book page so the writing is really tiny and if I zoom in, then the page doesn't fit on my screen.  Does this mean I might actually have a reason to break down and buy a real eReader?  We shall see!!  (Please feel free to give my husband a lot of mental vibe hints to buy his wife an eReader -- preferably a Nook color.  Thank you.) :)

Emily Jeanne Miller’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, June 11th:  Between the Covers
Tuesday, June 12th:  It’s a Crazy, Beautiful Life
Wednesday, June 13th:  A Library of My Own
Monday, June 18th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, June 20th:  The Blog of Litwits
Thursday, June 21st:  Southern Girl Reads
Monday, June 25th:  Knowing the Difference
Wednesday, June 27th:  I Write in Books
Friday, June 29th:  Colloquium (guest post)
Saturday, June 30th:  Colloquium (review)
Monday, July 2nd:  Life in Review
Tuesday, July 3rd:  Simply Stacie
Thursday, July 5th:  Unabridged Chick
Monday, July 9th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, July 11th:  Bookfan
Thursday, July 12th:  Girls Just Reading
Friday, July 13th:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, July 16th:  A Novel Source
Wednesday, July 18th:  A Patchwork of Books

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Neverwhere Discussion Part 2

I am over a week behind on the Neverwhere read-a-long but I'm still doing it!  Check out my response to Part 1 if you haven't already.

I'm behind, not because the book isn't a kick-butt story (because it is), but because my little baby boy is no longer a baby but a climbing, almost running toddler who just turned one.

By the way, head over to Carl's post and check out the awesome photo he took of Neverwhere/Mind the Gap. Awesome.

Here we go:

1. Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, "I want to go home". How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

I love that Richard is a completely believable character in how he responds and reacts to this whole bizarre adventure.  You can tell he is a compassionate person because he helped Door and then still mourns Anaesthesia.  But you know, he's kind of a baby too and probably the antithesis of a hero. For some reason, Richard is my only hang-up in wanting to see Neverwhere as a movie. I've seen the original mini-series so I'm not counting that -- but I think it would be hard to cast Richard -- a character who is likeable (ok, mabye realistic is the better word) but such a non-hero.

**Man, I just read Carl's post and his answer perfectly says what I was thinking.

2. The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week's reading. What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?


In all honesty, and this sounds really bad, I can't seem to remember what happens with his character from my first reading of the book years ago.  So he seems cagey, but I trust him.  Although when we went to see Croup and Vandemar I completely thought "Ah ha! He IS bad!" -- but I'm still not sure.  I tend to think that Door and her father can't be completely wrong about him.  Bad or good I still like Carabas because again, he's such a realistic character.  If he did something bad, it's not like Croup and Vandemar (truly evil bad), it's just that he's looking out for number one.

3. How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

I think this part of the book has such memorable scenes.  The part where Door and Richard crash the party to find angel, the meeting with the Angel Islington, and the Ordeal of the Key --- sigh. Epic.  My favorite part of the Ordeal of the Key is that it's such a brilliantly simple ordeal that would probably have most people (probably me included) fail miserably.  Beautifully done.  I don't want to spoil this part for anyone but if you've never read Neverwhere -- the Ordeal of the Key is why you should.

4.  This section of the book is filled with moments. Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you.  What are one or two of these that you haven't discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

Like I mentioned above, the scene were Door and Richard go to the Angel museum exhibit -- I can totally see that.  It's one of my favorite scenes.  The one that I remember vividly from my first read is the Earl's Court.  I thought it was fabulous that a book took the odd names of a place and made it come alive.  Of course there's an Earl's Court in a subway car in Underground London...why of course there is!

I love Carl's post about the "Mind the Gap" part.  My first time to London was before I read Neverwhere but I will always remember my first "Mind the Gap" moment on the subway and I love that Gaiman included that funny London tidbit.

5. Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

Another horrible aspect that I can't remember from my first read is the budding relationship building between Door and Richard.  I can't remember what happens between them which is wonderful for my re-reading.  It's not a love story, but there is starting to be a camaraderie (perhaps more?) between them -- I love the scene with drunk Door and Richard stumbling and giggling from the museum. I still can't quite picture Door either in my head -- although the mini-series did a good job casting her, I'm still not sure how I picture her.

Also, something I learned by reading Part 1Discussion posts from other people (Nashville Book Worm in particular) is that while years ago after reading Nevewhere I learned there was a BBC mini-series and I watched it -- and was left quite disappointed.  I always thought the mini-series came AFTER the book -- I was wrong!!

Whoohoo! On to finish the book! I'll leave you with an adorable photo of my little Rocket with his favorite book: