Friday, March 21, 2008

Jemima J by Jane Green

Jemima J is a book about being fat and being thin. Actually, it's about being fat and becoming thin. I didn't feel that the author really had any true idea of what it was like to be fat, just that she was spewing psychobabble she had heard on Oprah or whatever is the British equivalent. I thought that the author tried too hard- especially all the passages centered on fate bringing two people together. The writing was on par with a gifted 10th grader, often tedious/redundant. The plot was ridiculous in places, particularly one part of the book where the author tries really hard to imcorporate the literary technique of irony. This involves a rather nauseating description of "chubby chaser"-porn which I found unnecessary.

The book was difficult to relate to because one of the themes in the story is the emergence of this thing they have now called the "internet". The material being so dated was a little distracting. Maybe in 50 or 60 years that part would be interesting for another generation to read. I found it annoying.

There was a LOT of sex- some of it described in detail, and quite a bit of profanity.


Jemima J is a Cinderella story and the fat girl gets the prince (but only when she's thin). I didn't like that she loses the weight by becoming simultaneously unhealthily obsessed with exercise and very nearly anorexic. Then, in spite of this, she is able to keep the weight off when she starts eating again. Even though it is a romantic happily ever after, I didn't like the story, the writing, or the people except for the prince and (most of the time-) Jemima.

I would have to say skip this one.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Wow. I finished this book a week ago and was at such a loss for what to say about it that I waited a week to write this review in hopes inspiration would come. I am still reeling, trying to construct coherent thoughts about it. Bridging seemingly incongruous ideas which verge on one another so seamlessly that I am stunned by the breathtaking efficiency and precision of it, Mark Helprin strings delicate beads of mismatched colors until suddenly you are holding a rosary of stars and have not the slightest idea with to do with it. I, like most of the other people who've read this book, have absolutely no idea what it is about. I read all 768 pages and when I finished, I had as much understanding of the book as I did the day I first heard of it. And I LOVED IT. What I have to say about it probably won't make sense, but then neither did the book. Just keep in mind that in deciding what to say about Winter's Tale I have had to scour the deepest corners of my mind to pull together language which can somehow express my thoughts about it at all.

Winter's Tale is what you would get if you poured one part each of-

Romeo and Juliet, Brigadoon, Dickens, the Gaya Hypothesis, Monet's paintings of The Houses of Parliament at Sunset, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Norman Rockwell, Al Capone, Tennyson, the story of the Tower of Babel, Renoir's color palette, Jules Verne, the characterization of The Simpsons, Robert Frost, Rip Van Winkle, Dorothy Gale, Dowdle Folk Art, Narnia, Brahms' lullaby, Sinclair's Jungle, a fieldtrip to the planetarium and Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle In Time series-

into a vast lakebed and then watched as the many colors twisted in and around one another until, at last, every part had become one and everything was whole, and the whole was a hole through which you could see the universe and it was beautiful. (See? I told you it wasn't going to make sense.)

For me, the book is about a lot of things. It is about juxtapositions. It is about how everything has its opposite; how justice, balance, and restitution are part of the ultimate destiny of this world and how even though they might be anwered on the tenth generation, they still come to pass. It shows that change is the only thing that stays the same. It is about how time does not exist, how Heaven does, and how Heaven cannot be barged into but may be sometimes right around us, here on this very earth and we just don't see it. It's about how we are not alone. We are all somehow connected in ways that we do not see because the magnitude of these connections is so great that they are beyond our notice at all. They are so all-encompassing that they draw the people whose lives are intertwined to specific places- junctions- over and over again. The book shows that once you are a resident of someplace wonderful, you are always a resident there; no matter where you go or how long you are away. It's about how there is a grand design in place, an enormous machine of a thing, and every person and event and location is an integral part of the plan. The machine is constantly in motion and being part of the design gives us purpose.

What I loved most about this book was that it was beautiful. I don't mean that it was all flying horses and starlit nights and scenes of folk art painted in the loveliest shades from Van Gogh's masterpieces, although those things are there too. I mean the writing is beautiful. Not in the flowery and romantic way, but beautiful in the carefully crafted, hand-carved antique jewelry box way. Every sentence so carefully constructed, every word specifically chosen. The language so smooth you want to run your hand across its face and then open it up to see all the wonderful things therein. The kind of beautiful you want to wrap around you and take a nap in on a cloudy day. Perfect in its descriptions of both beauty and horrors, in its balance between the two. Perfect in its timing- the pace seems to pick up and move along faster and faster- as if you are reading in time with a locomotive steaming down the tracks. Perfect in its Dickensesque, dizzyingly complex, interconnection of characters. Perfect in its descriptive landscapes and portraits. A perfect rendering of perfect moments.

For the sake of a thorough review, I add only that there were a couple sex scenes in the book I was a little uncomfortable with. I think I read the f-word twice. I would highly recommend this book to avid readers. It is not for someone who doesn't read much. It's not for anyone who hates New York City. Most of all, it is not for those who find the feelings of muddled and vague comprehension disconcerting or uncomfortable. For everyone else however, it is truly wonderful. I suggest that when you read it, you read it with somebody because you will wish to have someone with whom to discuss it. Don't bother with what Wikipedia has to say about it. I thought that their article was a gross misinterpretation of all the symbolism in the book. It seemed to me the author wanted to pretend he had found the secret decoder ring. I do not believe for even the smallest instant that the author of the Wikipedia article understood the book any better than every other reviewer who came straight out and said, "I have no idea what this book is about."

I give "Winter's Tale" a heartfelt Something More Substantial.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Austenland by Shannon Hale

I love this one! Austenland is a tale of a woman who can't seem to find a guy to hold on to because none of the men she meets can measure up to Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy (especially as portrayed by Colin Firth). I had a hard time getting into the book. The first couple of chapters didn't exactly grab me. I stuck with it though and I'm glad that I did. Hale does a marvelous job of capturing the flavor of Austen's writing and the essence of Mr. Darcy, all in a modern context. The ending was wonderfully unpredictable and the author manages to write the story in such a way that any of the possible opposing outcomes would be happily accepted by the reader. The book is a wonderful romp through Regency England and an interesting commentary on what life might truly have been like for young women of that period. I recommend this book to lovers of Jane Austen's works- not just Pride and Prejudice, but the rest of her novels as well, and anyone who loves seventeenth century English literature. The book makes frequent reference to Austen's novels and there are also allusions to works from other authors of the time period such as Charlotte and Emily Bronte. In spite of the slow start I give this book a hearty something more substantial.

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

The book addresses the idea that each of us has a specific way of expressing love and understanding expressions of love; different "love languages". Often couples do not have the same love language and the result is that although both partners are working hard at showing love to one another, the efforts can often go unnoticed and our need to feel loved is unmet. I thought this book was interesting and I think it would be helpful for people whose relationships are in a difficult patch. I wish that I had read it the second year my husband I were married. I think if I had, a lot of things would have gone a more easily that year, and certain issues would have been resolved much more quickly. Because my marriage is pretty healthy at present however, I didn't find the information in the book very useful in that particular relationship. I did think that the principles I have tried to apply from the book have been somewhat helpful with my children, but I believe that Mr. Chapman has written another book specifically focused on the love languages of children. If improving your understanding of children's needs is what you are seeking, I would probably refer you to that other book.

One more note about this book I would like to make is that the newer edition with the cover pictured here has a love language analysis test to take in the back. The edition I read did not have this. I borrowed a later edition from someone in my book group so my husband and I could take the tests and thought that the tests rendered the information infinitely more useful than just reading the book without them. If you are going to read the book, make sure you get a later edition so you are able to do that exercise. Overall I would rate The Five Love Languages Something More Substantial.